Feelings about nanotechnology

Different thinking styles and the importance of feelings in responses to new technologies

The research development of applications and communication about nanotechnology has been going on for about 20 years; yet consumers still have little knowledge about what it is. Although they know little about nanotechnology, a negative consumer opinion towards nanotechnology applications may mean its products will not be taken up by the general public, and invested money and time is lost. To predict how people respond to nanotechnology, it is important to understand how people form opinions about nanotechnology when they have limited knowledge. Many scientists claim that the response of people to new technologies like nanotechnology is emotional. In our recent paper in PLOS ONE, we show that this might indeed be true.

Some people tend to rely on their gut feelings and intuition when forming an opinion. These people score high on what social psychologists call “Faith in Intuition”. When asked for their opinion, their feelings, or affect always plays an important role. But what about the people who generally enjoy to think? – these are the people among us who like to solve puzzles for a hobby. When these people have to provide an opinion they tend to carefully and consciously construct their opinions before voicing them. These people have a high “Need for Cognition”. I guess most of us know both types of people.

In an experimental survey with a representative sample of 1870 consumers of the Dutch public we show that people with high faith in intuition, who generally rely on feeling and intuition also do so for nanotechnology. This is not surprising, as we all know that those people are more driven by their feelings.

But, what happens for people who enjoy thinking? We showed that they do indeed rely more on thought when forming opinions about a familiar conventional technology. What happened for the unknown nanotechnology? Our participants had little knowledge about nanotechnology, so reasoning through the arguments would be difficult, even for those who like to do so. What we found is that for people who enjoy thinking, cognition became less important and feeling became more important for the unknown nanotechnology. Thus our study shows that both the people who always rely on feeling, but also the people who generally consider arguments, use their feelings when responding to the unknown nanotechnology. As a consequence, everybody relies on feeling when giving an opinion about a new technology like nanotechnology.

This paper written by Roxanne van Giesen, Arnout Fischer, Helee van Dijk and Hans van Trijp and published in PLOS ONE. PLOS ONE is an open access journal published under Creative Commons licensing. Interested readers can freely access, copy and reuse the article, as long as the author and original source are properly cited.

Roxanne I. van Giesen, Arnout R. H. Fischer, Heleen van Dijk, Hans C. M. van Trijp, (October 30, 2015) Affect and Cognition in Attitude Formation toward Familiar and Unfamiliar Attitude Objects, PLOS ONE, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0141790

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Arnout Fischer

About Arnout Fischer

Arnout Fischer is associate professor in the Marketing and Consumer Behaviour group. He studies consumer response to new technologies in food products and production. He thinks that consumer response to food innovation can only be understood if we realise that food is very special. Food is that special because all consumers have very much social and cultural knowledge what food should (or should not) be; and food consumption is very emotional.

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