"GMO" by Mariusz Rutkowski / CC BY 3.0

Genetically modified food opponents overestimate their knowledge, according to CU researchers

Jan 15, 2019

By Cassa Niedringhaus

People who most oppose genetically modified foods know the least about the science behind them, according to new research by University of Colorado scholars and researchers at other universities.

In a representative survey of U.S. residents, researchers measured three things: respondents’ attitudes about genetically modified foods, their scientific literacy, and their self-assessment of their knowledge on the topic. The researchers found that the more extreme a person’s opposition, the more likely they were to think they were knowledgeable about the subject but score lower on the scientific literacy component.

Philip Fernbach is a CU marketing professor and the lead author on the study, which was published in Nature Human Behaviour on Monday. The paper also included similar findings by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Toronto and the University of Pennsylvania.

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One comment on “Genetically modified food opponents overestimate their knowledge, according to CU researchers”

  • “They suggest that merely trying to educate people about genetic engineering technology is probably not going to be very successful in terms of getting them to change their opinions about the technology because the people who are most opposed are also the people who are probably the least willing to listen to information, because they already feel like they understand how the technology works,” Fernbach said. He added that those tasked with educating the public about new science likely explore not just how to educate people but also how to get people to appreciate that they don’t understand the technology as well as they think they do.

    “It would be easy to (vilify) the extremists who think they know the most but actually know the least, but that would be somewhat hypocritical,” he said. “Research in psychology has shown that humans in general tend to overestimate how well they understand even simple things, and underestimate the complexity of issues. We all do it. The problem is that extremists appear to be worse than the rest of us.”

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