Consumer attitudes towards biotechnology

Last changed: 17 April 2012 - slu.se

In component project 4 we will perform in-depth studies of the driving forces behind consumer attitudes and behaviours related to the use of agricultural biotechnology for food products by exploring the psychological foundations of technology acceptance, risk perceptions, choice and trust among members of the general public in their roles as consumers.

Social science research on genetically modified (GM) crops and foods has diversified remarkably. Whilst most of the early research understood itself as technology assessment, there was a shift in the late 1990s towards interdisciplinary consumer research. Research became more academically ambitious, much of it focusing on psychological as well as behavioural foundations of technology acceptance among member of the general public.

Our work will add and relate to a very active field of consumer-oriented research that is directed at food risk perceptions and individual differences in food habits. The absence of GM foods on European supermarket shelves and the low coverage in the media in recent years make it quite unlikely that EU citizens in general, and Swedish consumers in particular, could have acquired enough experiences to form implicit attitudes towards gene technology or its applications. This motivates the work from both a user as well as from a scientific perspective, since the work set out is largely to be done in an unexplored context. The aim is to discern, among else, the extent to which automatic, implicit affective reactions to the concept of gene technology play a role when members of the general public evaluate the technology or its applications, or if, as expected, other more complex forms of information are utilised in evaluative judgments and choices about gene technology. The core work will address how these judgments are formed through conscious, propositional reasoning processes.

There is already an extensive research literature on attitudes to biotechnology in food production and food products. We will combine research results from several scientific areas and integrate parametric and non-parametric measures into a systematic review of the multi-dimensional area of biotechnology in food. The research will generate evidence-based predictors for our own empirical research that will include the use of so called field experiments. Framed field experiments (FFE) will be designed to simulate the natural purchasing environment. We will relate these experiments to previous findings on trust in food and to recent work on the relationship between behavior and attitudes.

The objectives of the research synthesis are to provide an integrative overview of existing social science research related to GM plants and food products, covering psychological, economic, and selected agricultural issues as well as to provide a set of studies related to the psychological foundations of technology acceptance, risk perceptions, choice and trust among members of the general public. As a final objective we will address the issue of distribution of risk responsibility, that is, in the eyes of the public; who are viewed as responsible for what is produced and what is allowed to produce?

 

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