Genetically modified food opponents know less than they think, research finds

crops
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The people who hold the most extreme views opposing genetically modified (GM) foods think they know most about GM food science, but actually know the least, according to new research.

The paper, published Monday in Nature Human Behaviour, was a collaboration between researchers at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Toronto and the University of Pennsylvania.

Marketing and psychology researchers asked more than 2,000 U.S. and European adults for their opinions about GM foods. The surveys asked respondents how well they thought they understood genetically modified foods, then tested how much they actually knew with a battery of true-false questions on general science and genetics.

Despite a that GM foods are safe for and have the potential to provide significant nutritional benefits, many people oppose their use. More than 90 percent of study respondents reported some level of opposition to GM foods.

The paper's key finding is that the more strongly people report being opposed to GM foods, the more knowledgeable they think they are on the topic, but the lower they score on an actual knowledge test.

"This result is perverse, but is consistent with previous research on the psychology of extremism," said Phil Fernbach, the study's lead author and professor of marketing at the Leeds School of Business. "Extreme views often stem from people feeling they understand complex topics better than they do."

A potential consequence of the phenomenon, according to the paper's authors, is that the people who know the least about important scientific issues may be likely to stay that way, because they may not seek out—or be open to—new knowledge.

"Our findings suggest that changing peoples' minds first requires them to appreciate what they don't know," said study co-author Nicholas Light, a Leeds School of Business Ph.D. candidate. "Without this first step, educational interventions might not work very well to bring people in line with the scientific consensus."

The paper's authors also explored other issues, like gene therapy and climate change denial. They found the same results for gene therapy.

However, the pattern did not emerge for climate change denial. The researchers hypothesize that the climate change debate has become so politically polarized that people's attitudes depend more on which group they affiliate with than how much they know about the issue.

Fernbach and Light plan to follow this paper with more research on how their findings play into other issues like vaccinations, nuclear power and homeopathic medicine.


Explore further

Research confronts 'yucky' attitudes about genetically engineered foods

More information: Extreme opponents of genetically modified foods know the least but think they know the most, Nature Human Behaviour (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41562-018-0520-3 , https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-018-0520-3
Journal information: Nature Human Behaviour

Citation: Genetically modified food opponents know less than they think, research finds (2019, January 14) retrieved 18 June 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-01-genetically-food-opponents.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
2906 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Jan 14, 2019
"Science" also allowed things like Vioxx, Celebrex, Bextra, the bladder sling and so many other "health" products that are featured on legal firm class action suit commercials to be sold. "Science" said all cholesterol was dangerous, then said only "low density lipoproteins" are dangerous, now says no cholesterol is dangerous. "Science" said eggs weren't good for humans. Something that contains all the nutrients for a developing chick one thousandth the mass of a human is supposedly bad for humans! "Science" promoted the now discredited "body mass index" and the "food pyramid" over the "four food groups. The pyramid has now been replaced with a plate divided into four parts! Bring up the number of times "science" has been wrong and "science" devotees will prate only about how, when "science" can't push an idea anymore, they switch to something else! But the fact is "science" has a huge record of being wrong.

Jan 14, 2019
But the fact is "science" has a huge record of being wrong.

But science has a hug record of being right to. If you don't belive it go back to the stone age and die in your 20s or earlier.

Quote from Article
The people who hold the most extreme views opposing genetically modified (GM) foods think they know


One thing they don't have the slightest idea about is hunger and starvation of their loved ones. Few people would reject a genetically modified (GM) food product for their starving child that is dying in their arms.
But yet those same heartless individuals would deny that same gm food for someone else's loved ones on the grounds it might be harmful to them.

Jan 14, 2019
Science also put BPA in children's bottles.

Jan 14, 2019
julian, Your comment fits in the category of:

1) "X" is not always right; 2) Therefore I should not make decisions based on "x".

That's OK, but of course it is not the whole story. Change the word "x=science" to anything else you might rely on to help make a decision:

1) "My gut instinct" is not always right; 2) Therefore I should not make decisions based on "my gut instinct".

etc.

So the same thought pattern would prevent you from ever basing decisions on anything.

Like it or not, you have to assess the reliability of any source. None is ever perfect. The exceptional thing about science is its built-in rule that tells scientists that they CAN be wrong and to revise claims when they are shown to be wrong.

That works pretty well. All the examples you gave were shown to be wrong and the current version of science revised them. But not the current version of "x".

Jan 14, 2019
Julian, the drugs mentioned were designed for a very specific class of patients for whom the risks of taking them were modest in comparison with their specific need for them. Unfortunately big Pharma's marketing depts decided that these drugs should be spammed as a new super drug that could cure everything for everybody and that unfortunately ruined it for everyone that actually needed them. Was bad science part of the problem? Absolutely but the bigger problem was the voracious profit motive that blinded the press, the FDA as well as the companies.

Meanwhile it's no surprise to hear that the folks most adamant in the fight against GMO's haven't looked at any the the research from the last 30 years to bring their minds sets up to date. Think the fears of electrification from the the early twentieth century.

Jan 14, 2019
The very first sentence of the article belies its bias. "There is widespread agreement among scientists that genetically modified foods are safe to consume". Nothing more to be said.

Jan 15, 2019
The very first sentence of the article belies its bias. "There is widespread agreement among scientists that genetically modified foods are safe to consume". Nothing more to be said.


I think few people realize that the term SCIENTIST could apply to ANYONE. I was checking the temperature water freezes at home, in a scientific way, and that makes me a scientist. :-) If your going to try to make a point about scientists, you will need to be much more specific.

Jan 15, 2019
The very first sentence of the article belies its bias. "There is widespread agreement among scientists that genetically modified foods are safe to consume". Nothing more to be said.

Just another know-it-all who doesn't have to read the article about how GM deniers all think they're know-it alls.

Thanks for helping confirm the article, know-it-all.

Jan 15, 2019
Interesting follow on to the previous extremism research. Also interesting was the apparently observable climate science politicization among the public.

The very first sentence of the article belies its bias. "There is widespread agreement among scientists that genetically modified foods are safe to consume".


Yes, as expected, it is called "reality bias" and it is well known science suffers from working. As extremism does not, or your reflexive, biased yelling of "bias" or anything that helps you avoid seeing the facts.

few people realize that the term SCIENTIST could apply to ANYONE
.

Besides the shouting, you have a point in that anyone could use scientific methods and be generously called "scientists". But it is usually reserved for specialist professionals for obvious reasons.

Jan 15, 2019
You can't possibly know something if you haven't asked the right questions, and that is true for both sides of the GMO safety debate. We don't really know if the Séralini study is correct but it is clear that the science hasn't been done.

'there are no standard experimental designs for academic investigations involving omics analyses of genetically modified crops and that the only valid comparator to determine the effect of the process of transgenesis is a near isogenic variety grown at the same time and location'

Jan 15, 2019
FYI, the full article is available at: https://www.natur...Gw%3D%3D

Jan 15, 2019
Unfortunately, the full article does not list the questions used to assess scientific knowledge.

Interestingly, the graphs show that the people with the BEST objective scientific knowledge had SOME concern/opposition to GMOs. The best informed were NOT the ones with ZERO concern.

Do we conclude that the scientifically smartest people have some concern?

Jan 15, 2019

few people realize that the term SCIENTIST could apply to ANYONE
.

Besides the shouting, you have a point in that anyone could use scientific methods and be generously called "scientists". But it is usually reserved for specialist professionals for obvious reasons.


A truly good scientist would never declare a common word as RESERVED, because he knows without being specific and precise that word will mean many different things to many different people.

Jan 15, 2019
@tekram, are you willing to doom billions of people to starvation because effects you cannot qualify, much less quantify, might be "unsafe?" I'd say they'll eat it despite your worries. After all, they'd die if you're right, and they'd die if it doesn't work. Looks like a pretty good gamble to me.

Jan 21, 2019
Around 40% of food wasted in the US and other western countries. It is already kind of a 'common knowledge' how much food all stores, restaurants, etc. just throw out every night. Also it seems, everybody already should know that the main cause of 'starvation' is the forcing on the 3rd world to grow mono-cultures for our convenience. Let's continue to destroy their (and our) environment and all traditional knowledge with a noble cause to 'save humanity' from starvation! Our best intentions...

Jan 21, 2019
GM is "similar" to cross breeding that we have been doing for a very long time.
Were is GM different?
Breeders can add new traits to an existing thing. What breeders cant do is add fish traits to a plant. GM can.

Who knows what the fish traits in a plant will do over time. Our understanding of GM and the gnome generally is very limited. We have a long way to go.
Lets get a concrete understanding before we let things loose on the general public.
Look up Thalidomide. See the danger of not fully knowing what you are doing.
The public pays the high price of incompetence.

Jan 21, 2019
destroy their (and our) environment and all traditional knowledge with a noble cause to 'save humanity' from starvation! Our best intentions...


Typical conspiracist, typical theories, no original thought. Kind of like a puppet who currently lives VERY good. In a land where we have it better than 93% of the rest of the world. While singing the old song "doom and gloom".

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more