More strongly people report being opposed to genetically modified (GM) foods , the more knowledgeable they think they are on the topic, but the lower they score on an actual knowledge test, found 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.
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 PhD 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.