Crop Biotech Update

Research Finds Extreme Opponents of GM Foods Know the Least but Think They Know the Most

January 16, 2019

People with the most extreme views opposing genetically modified (GM) foods think they know most about GM food science, but actually, they know the least, according to new research published in Nature Human Behaviour. The research was a collaboration between researchers at the Leeds School of Business at CU 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 the respondents how well they thought they understood GM foods, then tested how much they actually knew with a battery of true-false questions on general science and genetics. The researchers found that despite the scientific consensus that GM foods are safe for human consumption, many people oppose their use. More than 90 percent of the respondents reported some level of opposition to GM foods.

"This result is perverse, but is consistent with previous research on the psychology of extremism," said Philip 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."

Nicholas Light, a Leeds School of Business PhD candidate in marketing suggests that changing people's minds first requires them to appreciate what they do not know. He added that without this first step, educational interventions might not work very well to bring people in line with the scientific consensus.

Read more about this research in CU Boulder Today.