Tuesday, October 20, 2009


SO I am reviewing all the public perception data on nanotechnology. I had to reread all the studies and select data portions that I will next examine for a 4S presentation at the end of the month. I will post an updated bibliography later.


Currall, King, Lane, Madera & Turner, 2007
This study examined involving a nationwide web survey in the USA to collect data from 4,542 likely consumers. “Nanotechnology involves human-designed materials or machines at extremely small sizes (atomic or molecular level) that have unique chemical, physical, electrical, or other properties”. This definition was followed by descriptions where they manipulated the level (high or low) of the health or environmental risks and benefits of the four-nanotechnology applications. Respondents were then asked how likely they would be to use such applications on a scale that ran from 1 (extremely unlikely to use) to 7 (extremely likely). To validate the web study, we also conducted telephone interviews with a national random sample of 501 adults. Our results showed that for both the web and telephone samples, respondents did not consider the risks or benefits of nanotechnology independently. Rather, in a pattern that held true for both health- and environment-related applications, the effect of benefits on the use of nanotechnology applications was more pronounced when risks were lower than when risks were high. Thus, our findings showed that public perceptions of nanotechnology are not as simple as previously assumed — risks and benefits are both enmeshed in a complex decision-making calculus. For instance, when the benefits are low, consumers are more concerned about risks than when benefits are high. Although the difference between the responses for high benefit/low risk and low benefit/high risk may seem modest, it is substantial for a survey of this nature. Similarly, the fact that the most positive response (that for high benefit/low risk) is still slightly below the mid-point of the 1–7 scale is not surprising because many respondents had not been exposed to nanotechnology products before the survey.

Siegrist, Cousin, Kastenholz, & Wiek, 2007.
They examined how lay people (N = 153) perceive nanotechnology foods and nanotechnology food packaging, and we examined the factors that influence willingness to buy these products. Participants received some general information about nanotechnology, and specific information about four nanotechnology applications. Overall, participants were hesitant to buy nanotechnology foods or food with nanotechnology packaging. Results suggest, however, that nanotechnology packaging is perceived as being more beneficial than nanotechnology foods. Results further suggest that social trust in the food industry is an important factor directly influencing the affect evoked by these new products.

Cook & Fairweather, 2007.
This study examined intentions of New Zealander to purchase lamb or beef made using nanotechnology. This was a national postal survey (N=565). Most had a positive attitude and intention to purchase (76.6%) and were the type of person who would purchase (self-identity) (49.2%). Most considered they had the support of people whose views are important to them (subjective norm) and few felt an impediment to purchasing (perceived behavioural control). Attitude, subjective norm, perceived behavioural control and self-identity explained a good deal of intention (R2 = 0.64). There was also a strong link between a sum of beliefs about the risks and benefits of the new product and attitude (r = 0.79).

Hart, 2007
In the 2007 survey, adults were asked a series of questions to ascertain their opinions on nanotechnology use in the specific application of food and food-related products. A solid majority (61%) feel that the food supply has become less safe in recent years, with 22% feeling that it has become much less safe in the past five years. One in three adults (29%) feels that the food supply has become safer and 6% feel that it is unchanged in the past five years. If the public is to use food storage products or foods that have been enhanced with nanotechnology, it wants more information about the health risks and benefits associated with nanotechnology in these products. Thirteen percent (13%) of adults say that they would not use food storage products enhanced with nanotechnology and 73% would need more information about nanotechnology used in food storage products before they would use them. Similarly, one in three adults (29%) would not purchase food enhanced with nanotechnology and another 62% need more information to do so. Adults who initially are more aware of nanotechnology are considerably more likely to report that they would use both food storage products and foods enhanced with nanotechnology. Adults who have heard a lot about nanotechnology are nearly three times more likely than adults who have heard nothing, to say that they would use food storage products enhanced with nanotechnology (31% compared with 11%), and are two and a half times more likely to use foods enhanced with nanotechnology (15% compared with 6%).


Eurobarometer 55.2, 2001
The opinion poll involved over 16,000 people throughout Europe and was carried out in the fifteen Member States of the EU between 10 May and 15 June 2001. They found m any Europeans feel that they grasp topical issues such as "mad cow disease" (76.6%) or the greenhouse effect (72.9%), while some technologies remain very obscure to the public (this is true of nanotechnologies, for instance). Genetically modified food and the Internet come in second place (59.3% and 58.0% respectively), while, finally, three types of technique are less frequently understood: medicines developed from genetic engineering (43.5%), fuel cells (32.7%), and – in clear last place - nanotechnologies (13.8%).

Bainbridge, 2002
Data from October 2001 involved 3909 respondents to an Internet survey questionnaire provide the first insights into public perceptions of nanotechnology. The respondents mentally connect nanotechnology with the space program, nuclear power, and cloning research, but rate it more favorably. In contrast, they do not associate nanotechnology with pseudoscience, despite its imaginative exploitation by science fiction writers.

In response to the first statement asserting that ‘human beings will benefit greatly from nanotechnology,’ fully 57.5% of the 3909 respondents agreed. In contrast, only 9.0% agreed with Bill Joy’s assertion that nanotechnology is ‘threatening to make humans an endangered species.’

Clearly, people who are in favor of nanotechnology also tend to support the space program, nuclear power, and research on cloning. Although opposition to nanotechnology is rare, it correlates with opposition to the three other technologies.

The chief finding of this initial, exploratory study is that science-attentive members of the general public are very enthusiastic about nanotechnology, and a rather large number of ideas about its benefits have already entered popular culture. Over the coming years, social scientists in a variety of fields should employ a diversity of research methods and analytical theories to chart and understand the growing significance of nanotechnology for modern civilization.

Cobb and Macoubrie, 2004
This study used a national random-digit dialed survey data set (N=1536) in spring 2004. More than 80% of survey respondents indicated that they had heard ‘‘little’’ or ‘‘nothing’’ about nanotechnology. For the entire sample, a sizeable percentage (38%) thought risks and benefits would be about equal, and slightly more (40%) predicted that nanotechnology would produce more benefits than risks, while only half that many (22%) said risks would outweigh the benefits. Half (50%) of the high knowledge respondents predicted greater benefits while just 34% of the low knowledge respondents make the same forecast.

Like knowledge, a simple but powerful relationship exists between respondents’ view of science and their predictions of benefits versus risks of nanotechnology. Apparently, respondents to
some degree use their views of science in general as a ‘‘heuristic’’ to construct their perceptions of risks and benefits of nanotechnology. About the same percentages of respondents who expect balanced benefits and risks, or largely benefits, believe science equally solves and creates problems (41%) and largely overcomes problems (47%). Respondents who perceive that science largely creates problems (11%) also predict that risks will be greater.

Unlike answers about benefits, there was no consensus as to which risk is perceived to be the most important one to avoid. The plurality opinion is that ‘‘losing personal privacy’’ is the most important to avoid (31.9%). Although the scenario of self-replicating nano-organisms (‘‘grey goo’’) was identified by the smallest percentage of respondents as the most important risk to avoid, another way to view this result is to be surprised that as many as 12% picked it as the highest risk even though many highly respected scientists consider it an improbable outcome.

Very few Americans report being angry about nanotechnology, and a solid minority reports feeling worried. Indeed, about four out of every five respondents claim not to be worried at all. Conversely, about 70% said they are very or somewhat hopeful about nanotechnology.

Less knowledge about nanotechnology is associated with far less hopefulness than more knowledge. Almost 27% of low knowledge respondents reported not feeling hopeful about nanotechnology, but just half that percentage (13%) of high knowledge respondents said they feel that way. Conversely, while just 27% of low knowledge respondents claim to be very hopeful, 44% of high knowledge respondents say the same thing.

A majority of Americans reports low trust in business leaders within the nanotechnology industry to protect them from potential risks. Slightly more than 60% of respondents said they had ‘‘not much trust’’ in business leaders’ ability or willingness to minimize risks to humans. Although a sizeable percentage claimed to have ‘‘some’’ or ‘‘a lot’’ of trust (40%), fewer than 5% of the sample said they had ‘‘a lot’’ of trust. The amount of trust respondents have is not significantly related to knowledge about nanotechnology, but it is strongly associated with perceptions of specific potential risks and benefits. Less trust also results in more respondents claiming that risks will outweigh benefits.

According to the data in, Prey has a counter-intuitive effect on perceptions of risks versus benefits. A whopping 63% predicted that benefits of nanotechnology would exceed the risk if they were exposed to Prey, compared to just 38% is they weren’t exposed to it.3 Likewise, just
13% thought risks would surpass the benefits if they were exposed to Prey, while 23% said this if they weren’t. Even though the descriptive data made it appear that Prey did not influence trust, the regression analysis indicates that exposure to the novel significantly correlates with less trust. Those exposed to Prey are less trusting of business leaders.

BMRB Social Research, 2004
Questions were placed on BMRB’s face-to-face omnibus survey from 8-14th January 2004. The questions were asked of a representative sample of 1005 adults aged 15 or over in Great Britain. All interviews were conducted in-home.

The omnibus survey results showed that three in ten respondents said they had heard of nanotechnology (29%). Awareness was higher among men (40%) than women (19%). Awareness was slightly lower for older respondents, falling from around a third for those aged under 55, to a fifth (20%) of those aged 65 or over. There was also a clear pattern by social grade, with awareness peaking at 42% for ABs (upper socio-economic classification) and falling to 16% of Des (lowest socio-economic classification).

When asked what they thought nanotechnology was in the omnibus survey, a third said they did not know – often saying that they had “just heard of it”, but didn’t know what it was. This reduces the proportion who had heard of nanotechnology, and were able to give some definition (however accurate) to one in five (19%). This accentuates the difference by gender – women were more likely than men to say they did not know what nanotechnology was meaning that, in total, 30% of men and only 10% of women had some idea of what nanotechnology might be.
The youngest and oldest respondents were most likely to say they did not know what nanotechnology was. This means that those aged 35-54 were most likely to be able to give some definition of nanotechnology (around a quarter).

The most common definitions of nanotechnology centered on miniaturization, or technology on a very small scale. In total 46% of those who had heard of nanotechnology gave an answer in this vein (14% of all respondents). Another frequent approach to defining nanotechnology relied on a particular application such as computing, electronics, or medicine. This type of answer was given by 30% of those who had heard of nanotechnology (9% of all respondents). The majority (two thirds) felt that nanotechnology would make things better in the future, with very few saying it would make things worse. Consistent with the tendency to define nanotechnology by its applications, 13% said it would depend on what it was used for.

Cobb, 2005
This survey of public attitudes about nanotechnology was a random digit-
dialed survey of adults eighteen years or older in the continental United States between late March and early April of 2004 (N = 1,536). Respondents were randomly assigned to one of ten experimental conditions: an oversampled control group (N = 330) or one of nine unique framing conditions about the risks or benefits of nanotechnology (N = 134, each). Respondents in all conditions, even the control group, heard a brief, objective description about nanotechnology. Next, respondents in each of the nine framing conditions heard a distinct way of framing nanotechnology. In six of the experimental conditions, respondents listened to one-sided frames. Three of the one-sided frames were “pro” and three were “anti” nanotechnology. The remaining three conditions are two-sided frames that pit each of the preceding “pro” frames against their equivalent antinanotechnology frames. Substantive questions about nanotechnology were then asked immediately following the frames.

One-sided frames are consistently effective, but only when they identify specific risks or benefits about nanotechnology. Neither frame that promoted a particular version of the merits of science alone—conservative humanism or cornucopian—was influential. All four additional one-sided frames, however, created different perceptions about the balance between risks and benefits. Both frames including health risks and multiple kinds of risks about nanotechnology increased the percentages believing that risks will exceed or be equal to benefits. Similarly, both cornucopian frames that included specific benefits about nanotechnology resulted in more people expecting the benefits to surpass the risks. Interestingly, risk frames never resulted in a plurality of respondents believing that the risks of nanotechnology would be more likely than its benefits. Instead, respondents in the risk frames conditions were simply more skeptical about potential benefits. Conversely, framing nanotechnology as beneficial resulted in an actual majority of respondents in the health benefits condition saying that benefits would prevail, and a solid plurality in the multiple benefits condition saying the same thing. As expected, opinion change was less likely to occur when respondents were in one of the two-sided framing conditions. Respondents’ perceptions about nanotechnology were significantly different in just one of these three two-sided framing conditions. In this one case, perceptions of risks unexpectedly increased when respondents heard both the conservative humanist and cornucopian frames. This appears to be a statistical anomaly because neither of these particular frames was associated with significant opinion change when they were one sided. Overall, then, the general pattern of results for two-sided frames is consistent with the claim that framing effects tend to occur because respondents are exposed to just one side of a debate.

Special Eurobarometer 224, 2005
Over 32,000 interviews were conducted face-to-face in people’s homes in their national language in early 2005. The countries surveyed include the twenty-five Member States. Nanotechnologies receives by far the lowest rate of interest among the suggested items, with a mere 8% mentioning interest in developments of this field. As for “Genetics” we can note that the higher the education level, the more interest is perceived as well. This is also the case for “Nanotechnologies” where the highly educated show clearly more interest than those with a lower level of education. Finally, we can say that ‘nanotechnologies’, although remaining at the lowest rate among all the proposed items, has seen its score more than double since 2001 (from 4% to 9%), and is perhaps slowly becoming a wider theme of interest for Europeans.

Gaskell, Ten Eyck, Jackson & Veltri, 2005
The article drew from the Eurobarometer survey. Fieldwork was conducted in September and October 2002 (N=15,000). The US survey is a random probability telephone survey with fieldwork conducted between December 2002 and February 2003 (N=850). This survey also examined media coverage. While interesting, it is not relevant to this research project.

Asked whether nanotechnology will improve our way of life, 50 percent of the US sample said “yes” and 35 percent say “don’t know.” The European figures are almost the mirror image, 29 percent saying “yes” and 53 percent saying “don’t know.” People in the US are also more optimistic than Europeans about eight more familiar technologies. Overall, while more Europeans are likely to suspend judgment about nanotechnology and opt for a “wait and see” position, people in the US are more likely to take an optimistic stance on this, as yet, unknown technology.

Einsiedel, 2005
Interviews were conducted by telephone during a three-week period in January 2005. Fieldwork was carried out by a commercial research firm. A sample size of 1200 randomly selected adults was used in the US and a random sample of 2000 was used in Canada.

Awareness of NT was gauged on three dimensions: whether respondents were familiar with, had been exposed to, and had discussed the technology. US respondents were more likely to indicate familiarity, with a significant minority – four in ten – saying they were somewhat or very familiar. Among Canadians, about a third had the same view. About four in ten in both countries said they had had exposure from reading, seeing or hearing something about the subject. Only a quarter in both countries said they had discussed the subject with anyone.

Given the limited awareness and familiarity, there are indications that publics in both countries are giving the technology the benefit of the doubt, with at least half suggesting they see moderate risks but substantial benefits. The cautiousness Canadians have for this technology is reflected in their judgment about its moral acceptability, with almost the same numbers saying they find NT morally acceptable as those maintaining it was morally questionable. Canadians are less optimistic than Americans about the economic benefits they project for this technology, with close to six in ten expecting modest or no significant benefits. Only about half of U.S. respondents share this view. As for expectations of major benefits, four in ten U.S. respondents (42%) and slightly over a third of Canadians (36%) expected “major benefits” to flow from this technology. The remainder of the study examined confidence in oversight and trust in regulators.

Scheufele & Lewenstein, 2005
In the fall of 2004, we conducted a representative national telephone survey with a sample size of N=706. The cooperation rate (based on standard definitions developed by the American Association for Public Opinion Research) was 43% (AAPOR definition CR-1).

Fifety-five (sic) percentage of all respondents who indicated that they were aware of the issue of nanotechnology expressed overall support for nanotech, compared to only 28% of the unaware group. This is compared to 52% support and 48% opposition in the total sample. Similarly, 49% of the aware respondents supported more increased financial support for nanotech research, compared to 22% of the unaware group. In the total sample, the breakdown was 42% in favor of increased funding and 58% opposed to increased funding. About 35% of frequent readers of science news in newspapers for example, indicated that the benefits of nanotechnology outweighed the risks. Among respondents who do not read science news frequently, only 25% thought that the benefits outweighed the risks.

Their findings confirm previous research that suggests that people form opinions and attitudes even in the absence of relevant scientific or policy-related information. In fact, our data show that cognitive shortcuts or heuristics – often provided by mass media – are currently a key factor in influencing how the public thinks about nanotechnology and about its risks and benefits, and in determining the level of support among the public for further funding for research in this area.

Sheetz, Vidal, Pearson & Lozano, 2005
A multiple-choice questionnaire was distributed to 978 students and staff (over
18 years old and not related to science and engineering fields) within the University of Texas Pan American (UTPA). The results were grouped into three categories: (1) those who had never heard of nanotechnology; (2) those who had heard of nanotechnology but did not know what it was or could not define it correctly; and (3) those who knew about nanotechnology. The percentage of respondents who knew what nanotechnology was 17%. The percentage of people who had at least heard about nanotechnology was 45%. When respondents were asked if they would like to know more about nanotechnology,
76% said ‘yes’. Even in a community with only 17% awareness, there was interest in the science. Respondents were asked about possible nanotechnology application(s) they might support. People are more inclined to support health issues: 79% supported better ways to diagnose and cure diseases; 59% support cheap and renewable sources of energy; 37% would like to see the development of super-tiny electronics.

They uncovered findings associated with sources of information and trust. The dominant source of information was the mass media, such as television, movies, and magazines (61%) and that ‘scientists and engineers can be trusted to make decisions in the best interest of the general public (80%).

Lee, Scheufele & Lewenstein, 2005.
This study utilized a national survey data set collected in fall 2004. It found, only science media use had a direct influence on general support for nanotechnology and the effects of formal education on general support for nanotechnology were largely mediated by science media use. The effect of level of religiosity was mediated by affective variables, such as trust in scientists and negative emotion toward nanotechnology. With respect to the main effects of cognitive and affective factors, we found significant positive links between knowledge about science in general and trust in scientists and general support for nanotechnology. Negative emotion toward nanotechnology was negatively related to general support for nanotechnology, even after all other controls were entered in the model (see Cobb and Macoubrie, 2004). With regard to the explanatory power of trust, however, trust in scientists seems to be a better predictor of general support for nanotechnology than science knowledge in our models. Knowledge about nanotechnology and negative emotion toward nanotechnology had a significant interaction effect on general support for nanotechnology as the criterion variable. In line with previous research on public perceptions of risk about emerging technologies, females showed a higher level of risk perceptions
Similar to the OLS model for general support for nanotechnology, the influences of religiosity were largely mediated by other affective variables in the model. Also, consistent with previous research, science media use had a negative and robust effect on perception of risks versus benefits. Knowledge about science in general and trust in scientists showed a negative relationship with risks-versus-benefits perceptions, whereas negative emotion was positively related. However, the relationships for affective variables were particularly interesting: (1) individuals who showed higher levels of trust in scientists were likely to perceive more benefits than risks, and (2) individuals who showed higher levels of negative emotion toward nanotechnology were likely to perceive more risks than benefits. While there was a main effect between negative emotion toward nanotechnology and perception of risks versus benefits of nanotechnology, the interaction between negative emotion toward nanotechnology and knowledge about nanotechnology was also significant. This suggests that knowledge about nanotechnology had a significantly stronger effect on risks-versus-benefits perceptions if individuals also had low levels of negative emotion toward nanotechnology

Macoubrie, 2006
Participants (N = 152) self-assigned themselves randomly to the experimental conditions, without knowledge of doing so, by choosing group meeting times that fit their schedule. A professional firm conducted recruitment in the selected sites of St. Paul MN, San Diego CA, and Raleigh-Durham NC. A comparison shows that as in the national survey sample (N = 1536 (Cobb and Macoubrie, 2004)), 95 percent of the present study’s participants had heard almost nothing or a little about nanotechnology. As well, less than 1 percent of the study participants had read Prey or Swarm (science fiction novels featuring nanotechnology predators that might lead to a negative view of nanotechnology), again as with the national sample.

These results may be useful in risk communication about nanotechnology. At this emergent phase of nanotechnology development, creating better ways to predict those risks and protect against them might go far in restoring public trust of government and the US medical industry. “Selling” nanotechnology without knowledge of long-term risks does not seem likely to counter concerns grounded in past experience, and does seem likely to repeat the error of the genetically modified foods industry, pressing ahead while ignoring public concerns. The majority of respondents in this study were at once concerned about known areas of risk, still clearly interested in the benefits (to be explicated separately and discussed in detail elsewhere), excited about the potential of nanotechnology, but concerned about its employment and other social effects, concerned that over-regulation could negate the potential, and concerned that if other countries are developing nanotechnology, the United States should not fall behind. They scorned “trivial” applications (such as cosmetics and wrinkle-free fabrics), and wished to encourage important applications such as in water quality, medical uses to reduce human suffering, and applications that would alleviate distress in developing countries. Yet it seems unlikely that either “education” or image campaigns can easily mitigate a strong lack of trust, linked in the public mind to decades of past failures to consider downstream risks.

Scheufele, Corley, Dunwoody, Shih, Hillback & Guston, 2006
The first data source was a general population telephone survey of 1,015 US adults; the second data source was a mail survey of 363 nanotechnology scientists and engineers. The fieldwork was conducted from May to July 2007 for the public opinion survey, and from May to June 2007 for the scientist survey.

A comparison between two recent national surveys among nanoscientists and the general public in the US shows that, in general, nanoscientists are more optimistic than the public about the potential benefits of nanotechnology. However, for some issues related to the environmental and long-term health impacts of nanotechnology, nanoscientists were significantly more concerned than the public.

The relatively low levels of attention that health and environmental risks of nanotechnology have received in mass media, therefore, provide industry and university scientists working in this area with a unique opportunity to take a leadership role in engaging the public in a meaningful dialogue about nanotechnology. In fact our research shows that industry and university scientists are among the handful of groups the public trusts the most for information about nanotechnology — much more than governmental bodies, regulatory agencies and news media. Nanotechnology may, therefore, be one of the first emerging technologies where academia and business have the ability to reach out directly to a public who trusts the information they provide. Ironically, nanotechnology may also be the first emerging technology for which scientists may have to explain to that public why they should be more rather than less concerned about some potential risks.

Fujita, 2006
This survey undertaken in late 2004 involved 1011 in the Tokyo area. The population was well educated but not technological professionals. 44% indicated an interest in science and technology and 50% perceived nanotechnology would improve their lives. 55.2% claimed they had heard about nanotechnology frequently or from time to time. 85.6% hoped nanotechnology would contribute to the developments in medicine and health care, 30% felt it would have a positive impact on the Japanese economy, and 80.4% hopes it would help alleviate environmental problems. 71% claimed they learned about nanotechnology on TV news and programs and 58% from newspapers. In general, 88% saw positive benefits while 54.5% indicated some concerns. Among them 60% were concerned about safety, 79% were concerned about unexpected outcomes, and 49% were concerned about morality.

Lee & Scheufele, 2006
Using national telephone survey during fall 2004 data (N=706 w a 40% cooperation rate), we examine the pathways between different types of media use and attitudes toward nanotechnology, particularly potential mediating roles of nanotechnology knowledge and deference toward scientific authority. People relying on newspapers and the Internet for science information report higher levels of nanotechnology knowledge, while respondents using science TV showed higher levels of deference toward scientific authority.

We found that Web science use was indirectly related to public attitudes toward nanotechnology through knowledge about nanotechnology. However, the direct relationship between Web science use and attitudes toward nanotechnology was not statistically significant, indicating complete mediation.

We found that television science use is associated with public attitudes toward nanotechnology through deference toward scientific authority, whereas the influences of newspaper science use are at least partly mediated by nanotechnology knowledge. It should be noted that despite the concern over sensational journalistic practices, newspaper science use positively affects people's science knowledge. In contrast, television science use was not significantly linked to nanotechnology knowledge. At this point, mass media coverage of nanotechnology is minimal, and, therefore, people seem to rely upon alternative media (i.e., the Internet), through which they can actively search for additional and in-depth information regarding nanotechnology.

Priest, 2006
A January 2005 telephone survey of 1200 people in the U.S. and 2000 Canadians provides a snapshot of current North American opinion regarding nanotechnology at this crucial early point in its emergence from the laboratory to the arena of public discourse and public understanding.

Unsurprisingly, familiarity remains low, with 57% of those in the U.S. and 64% of Canadians indicating they are ‘‘not at all familiar’’ or ‘‘not very familiar’’ with nanotechnology.

Data from the 2005 U.S.–Canada telephone survey on which the analysis being reported here is based indicate 46% of respondents in the U.S. and 39% in Canada think nanotechnology ‘‘will improve our quality of life in the next twenty years,’’ 13% in each country think it will ‘‘have no effect,’’ and 6% in the U.S. and 5% in Canada think it will ‘‘make things worse.’’ Fully 35% of those in the U.S. and 43% of Canadians do not know or declined to answer. However, of those who reported they were ‘‘very’’ or ‘‘somewhat’’ familiar with nanotechnology – about 38% of the respondents for both countries combined, higher than the 29% reported in the earlier UK Royal Society study who had ‘‘heard of’’ nanotech – 64% answered that it ‘‘will improve our quality of life.’’ Among the 6% who say they are ‘‘very’’ familiar, this rises to 76%.

Of 600 people in the U.S. who were asked whether or not ‘‘nanotechnology research has been considerate of my interests, values and beliefs,’’ 49% said ‘‘yes’’ and 38% said ‘‘no.’’ Of 1000 people in Canada asked the same question, 48% said ‘‘yes’’ and 43% said ‘‘no.’’ Among ‘‘true believers’’ in both countries combined, 70% said ‘‘yes’’ and only 21% said ‘‘no.’’ At the other extreme, among ‘‘ethical populists’’ only 25% said ‘‘yes’’ but 66% said ‘‘no.’’ Overall, only 50% of respondents in the two countries combined answered ‘‘yes’’ to this question, with a clear pattern of variation among the ‘‘publics’’.

Hart, 2006
The study surveyed a general population (N = 1-14) early fall 2006 and major component of the survey involved data collection on familiarity and approval ratings for government agencies.

Public awareness of nanotechnology is increasing, as the proportion of Americans who say they have heard a lot or some about nanotechnology has nearly doubled from 16% in 2004 to 30% today. One in ten Americans say that they have heard a lot about nanotechnology, and 20% say they have heard some. However, fully 69% recall hearing just a little or nothing about nanotechnology. Indeed, a large segment of the public, 42%, has heard nothing at all about nanotechnology.

When asked for their unaided evaluation of the trade-offs between the risks and benefits of nanotechnology, more than one-third (35%) of the public believes that the risks will outweigh benefits, 15% think the benefits will outweigh risks, and 7% say that the risks and benefits will be about equal. However, a large segment of the public has no initial impression of nanotechnology, with 43% indicating they are not sure.

Individuals who have heard more about nanotechnology are more likely to think that the benefits will outweigh the risks. As familiarity with nanotechnology decreases, concern about risks increasingly takes priority over the potential benefits. Of those who have heard a lot about nanotechnology, 46% feel that benefits will outweigh risks and 37% feel risks will outweigh benefits. Of those who have heard some about nanotechnology, 32% feel that benefits will outweigh risks and 42% believe risks will outweigh benefits. For those who have heard just a little, 13% feel that benefits will outweigh risks and 52% feel risks will outweigh benefits. For those who have heard nothing at all about nanotechnology, only one-quarter (26%) are willing to make a judgment about the trade-offs between risks and benefits—2% feel benefits will outweigh risks, 20% believe risks will outweigh benefits, 4% believe risks and benefits will be equal, and a large majority (73%) are not sure.

Hart, 2007
This study surveys a general population (N=1014) early fall 2007 and major component of the survey involved data collection on familiarity and approval ratings for government agencies.

Three-quarters (76%) of adults who heard nothing at all about nanotechnology reported they were not sure about the risks-versus-benefits tradeoff and another 17% in this group reported that risks and benefits will be about equal. Only 7% of adults who are completely unaware of nanotechnology assess whether the risks would outweigh benefits or vice versa

A majority of the public is too uncertain about nanotechnology to make any judgment about its risks and benefits. Without having been provided any information about nanotechnology, respondents were asked to assess the trade-offs between the risks and benefits of nanotechnology.

About half (51%) of adults had no opinion either way, indicating that they are not sure about the risks-versus-benefits tradeoff. Another 25% report that they think the risks and benefits will be about equal, 18% say that benefits will outweigh risks, and 6% say risks will outweigh benefits. In comparing these results with the 2006 poll, there is a slight increase in the proportion of adults who think that benefits will outweigh risks, increasing from 15% in 2006 to 18% today. The proportion of adults who say that risks will outweigh benefits remains about the same, with 7% saying the risks will outweigh the benefits in 2006 and 6% saying that today.

A strong relationship exists between awareness of nanotechnology and the opinion that benefits will outweigh risks. More than half (51%) of adults who have heard a lot about nanotechnology believe that the benefits will outweigh the risks, as compared with 42% of those who have heard some, 17% of those who heard just a little, and 3% of those who heard nothing at all. Not surprisingly, as awareness decreases, so does willingness to make a judgment at all about the risks-versus-benefits tradeoff of nanotechnology.


The proportion of adults who have heard a lot or some about nanotechnology actually decreased slightly in the past year, from 30% in 2006 to 27% today. Only 6% say they have heard a lot about nanotechnology, one in five (21%) has heard some, 29% have heard just a little, and two in five (42%) adults have heard nothing at all about it. Men, especially those under age 50, as well as individuals with more education and higher incomes are more likely to have heard at least something about nanotechnology. In fact, 39% of adults with a college education and 40% of those with household incomes exceeding $75,000 report hearing some or a lot about nanotechnology. These relatively high levels of awareness among those with more education and higher incomes are very similar to the 2006 poll findings. Those who have heard anything at all about the technology were asked specifically where they heard about it. The most frequently cited sources include: news programs and the newspaper; television, with the Discovery Channel and science channels frequently referenced; magazines, journals, and scientific publications; the Internet; and friends or family.


Adults were read the following information about nanotechnology, and then asked again to decide whether the benefits of nanotechnology will outweigh the risks, the risks will outweigh the benefits, or the risks and benefits will be about equal. Upon being read this information, 30% of adults report that the benefits will outweigh the risks, a 12-point increase from their initial impression, 22% say the risks will outweigh the benefits, a 16-point increase, and 37% say the risks and benefits will be about equal, a 12-point increase. One in 10 (11%) remains unsure.

Burri & Bellucci, 2007
The Swiss focus groups on nanotechnology took place in September 2006. They had the form of a so-called publifocus, which is an instrument developed by the Swiss Centre for Technology Assessment (TASwiss) to facilitate public discussion of emerging technologies. The Swiss focus groups on nanotechnology showed that citizens today, at least in the Swiss context, are neither reluctant toward nanotechnology nor highly enthusiastic facing the potential environmental and health risks the emerging technologies might imply.
Nevertheless, citizens hope for economic payoffs through the creation of jobs in the nano industry, and are optimistic in regard to the benefits nanotechnology might bring to innovations in medical treatment, environmental activities, and daily life in the future.

Nerlich, Clarke & Ulph, 2007
This study involved responding to a hypothetical health treatment scenario and a Likert scale preference method with classroom setting samples of undergraduate students (N=434) in late 2005 and early 2006 in England. Overall then, the young people in this study seemed less excited, and less bothered, by the advent of nanotechnology — at least in this field of application — than we thought they might be. There was, however, a gender difference, not so much in relation to the forms of treatment, nano versus traditional, but in the overall excitement for novel treatment demonstrated by male participants rather than female participants. This tallies with research into gender differences in public attitudes to science and technology in general and nanotechnology in particular.

Siegrist, Keller, Kastenhol, Frey & Wiek, 2007
Inexpert (N = 375) and expert (N = 46) perceptions of twenty (20) different nanotechnology applications and three non-nanotechnology applications were examined via survey under taken in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Participants were asked to rank hazards from asbestos to skiing using ten five-point scales using modified Sandman’s dichotomies (add source) including voluntariness, control, trust, etc.

Analyses of aggregated data suggested that perceived dreadfulness of applications and trust in governmental agencies are important factors in determining perceived risks. Similar results were observed for experts and laypeople, but the latter perceived greater risks than the former.
Analyses of individual data showed that trust, perceived benefits, and general attitudes toward technology influenced the perceived risk of laypeople. In the expert sample, confidence in governmental agencies was an important predictor of risks associated with nanotechnology applications. Results suggest that public concerns about nanotechnology would diminish if measures were taken to enhance laypeople’s trust in governmental agencies.

Even though we observed substantial mean differences for the various applications, the ratings were highly correlated. In other words, some people assess all nanotechnology applications positively, whereas others assess nanotechnology in a generally negative way. Therefore, we could examine the question of why different persons perceive nanotechnology differently.
Experts and laypeople differ in their perception of risks associated with nanotechnology hazards. The public perceives higher levels of risk than experts, and experts have more trust in governmental agencies to protect people’s health from nanotechnology risks than the public does.

Kahan, Slovic, Braman, Gastl & Cohen, 2007
This study involves a panel of on-line survey respondents assembled by Knowledge Networks (N=1850) in late 2006. A full 81% of our subjects reported having heard either “nothing at all” (53%) or “just a little” (28%) about nanotechnology prior to being surveyed. Only 5% reported having heard “a lot.” Nevertheless, we also found that after being supplied with a minimal and nonjudgmental description of what nanotechnology is, the vast majority of
Americans are willing to offer an opinion about its relative risks and benefits.
Eighty-nine percent had a position one way or the other. Interestingly, although divided, Americans, on the whole, seem relatively pro-nanotechnology.
A majority, 53%, indicated that they believed nanotechnology’s benefits would either “slightly” or “strongly” outweigh its risks. Thirty-six percent indicated that they believed that nanotechnology’s risks would either “slightly” or “strongly” outweigh its benefits. There is clearly a white male effect in assessment of nanotechnology risks. Men and whites were significantly more disposed to see benefits as outweighing risks than were women and African-Americans, respectively. White males were the most disposed to see benefits as outweighing risks. The most striking differences were based on subjects’ levels of (reported) knowledge. “Low knowledge” subjects—those who indicated they had heard either “nothing at all” or “just a little”—were considerably more disposed to see risks as outweighing benefits than were either “moderate knowledge” or “high knowledge” subjects, whose respective positive views of nanotechnology benefits did not differ significantly. Interestingly, they discovered information doesn’t mater. The respective mean evaluations of nanotechnology risks of the information treatment group and the no-information group were statistically insignificant. The overall percentages of subjects in the information group who took the position either that benefits would outweigh risks or that risks would outweigh benefits were quite comparable to those in the no-information condition. By far the largest influence on affect was prior knowledge. The more subjects reported having heard about nanotechnology before being surveyed, the more positive their affective appraisal of it. Accordingly, if learning about nanotechnology does dispose persons to a more positive view, one might well have expected a sample so dominated by persons without substantial prior knowledge to shift toward a more positive view upon exposure to information. One might suppose that as members of the public learn more about nanotechnology their assessments of its risk and benefits should converge.
Their results suggest that exactly the opposite is likely to happen. Individuals who hold values that predispose them to credit claims of environmental risk generally tend to become alarmed, whereas those who hold values that predispose them to dismiss claims of environmental risk generally tend to be become reassured, as they are exposed to balanced information about nanotechnology’s risks and benefits.

Hart, 2008
In late summer 2008, Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc., conducted a nationwide survey among 1,003 adults about awareness of and attitudes toward both nanotechnology and synthetic biology. Two focus groups were also conducted in Baltimore. The large majority of Americans have little or no awareness of nanotechnology: less than one in four (24%) adults have heard some or a lot about it, including just 7% who have heard a lot, while three in four adults have heard just a little or nothing about it. Nearly half (49%) of adults say that they have heard nothing at all about it. This represents a slight decline in awareness since last year
(27% said they had heard a lot or some in 2007) and the year before (30% said they had heard a lot or some in 2006). There is a positive association between awareness of nanotechnology and the belief that the benefits of nanotechnology will outweigh the risks.

When those who express at least a minimal awareness of nanotechnology are asked where they heard about it, television is the top-tier source. They also mention the Internet, magazines and journals, and news programs and newspapers. Interestingly, adults with the highest level of awareness are most likely to cite magazines and journals as their information sources, while less-informed individuals are most likely to say that they heard about nanotechnology via television.

Nearly half of adults are too unsure about nanotechnology to make an initial assessment on the tradeoffs between risks and benefits. Of those who are willing to make a judgment, by three to one they think that benefits will outweigh risks (20%) as opposed to thinking risks will outweigh benefits (7%). The plurality, however, believe that risks and benefits will be about equal (25%). When asked to weigh the risks and benefits of nanotechnology in the absence of any definition or information about it, 48% of adults simply do not express an opinion. One in four believes that the risks and benefits will be about equal, 20% think that the benefits will outweigh the risks, and just 6% believe that the risks will outweigh the benefits. A comparison of the public’s initial, unaided impression of nanotechnology over the past three years reveals a slight trend toward a more positive assessment. In 2006, 15% of adults said that the benefits will outweigh the risks, and that proportion increased to 18% last year. There has been no shift in the proportion of adults who believe risks will outweigh benefits.

There is a strong association between awareness of nanotechnology and respondents’ initial impression that the benefits will outweigh the risks. Those who have heard more about nanotechnology are more likely to think that the benefits will outweigh the risks. Nearly half (49%) of those who have heard a lot about nanotechnology believe that the benefits will outweigh the risks, and the proportion who have this opinion decreases to 41% among those who have heard some about nanotechnology, 24% among those who have heard just a little, and just 8% among those who have not heard anything at all about it. (Men, college graduates, and higher-income individuals report the highest levels of awareness of nanotechnology, and they are the groups most likely to think that benefits will outweigh risks.) A lack of awareness does not translate into greater skepticism of nanotechnology though. Rather, two-thirds (65%) of adults who have not heard anything about the technology do not make a judgment on the risk benefit tradeoff.

Smiley Smith, Hosgood, Michelson & Stowe, 2008
A national random digit dialing telephone survey (N = 1014) was conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc., in the United States to assess knowledge of nanotechnology and perception of risk in August 2006. In the study population, 44.3% of men and 55.7% of women reported knowing just a little or nothing at all about nanotechnology. Men were 2.3 (95% CI: 1.72, 3.01) times
more likely than women to have heard a lot or some about nanotechnology. Age was also an interesting component, with younger respondents being significantly more likely to have heard a lot or some about nanotechnology.

This study is the first to our knowledge to develop a significant model of nanotechnology risk perception change. In particular, those who shifted to a perception that benefits outweighed risks were likely to be male, more highly educated, and Republican. Alternatively, those who shifted to a perception that risks outweighed benefits were likely to be female, less highly educated, and affiliated with the Democratic Party

Kahan, Slovic, Braman, Gastil, Cohen & Kysar, 2008
The study involved a sample of approximately 1,600 American adults and was conducted over a period of several weeks between June and August 2007. The subjects were drawn from a nationally representative panel recruited by Knowledge Networks and participated in experiments using Knowledge Network’s on-line testing facilities. The study occurred in two stages. The first stage (N-800) evaluated how exposure to balanced arguments unattributed to identifiable advocates would influence subjects’ perceptions of nanotechnology risks and benefits. The second (N=800) evaluated how exposure to the same arguments would influence participants’ perceptions when the arguments were attributed to advocates recognized as holding one or another set of cultural values. The information presented to the samples involved a no-argument and argument categories. No-argument condition involved a brief description of nanotechnology. The argument condition involved two subsets with one advocating suspension of development pending further health and safety research and another defending continued development also with further research. The second stage sample had argument randomly assigned to advocates from different cultural worldviews. The results revealed that cultural polarization interacts strongly with the relationship between subjects’ cultural worldviews and the perceived worldviews of those advocating one position or another on nanotechnology. While interesting, the findings are not relevant to this analysis.

As in the previous study, we found that the vast majority of the subjects (92%) had heard “little” or “nothing” about nanotechnology before the study. Overall, subjects exposed to argumentative information did not form risk perceptions significantly different from those of individuals not exposed to such arguments. However, as in the previous study, we found that various groups exposed to information became polarized relative to groups not exposed to information. They observed polarization along race, a fear of environmental risks in general, and prior knowledge about nanotechnology. “High-knowledge” subjects (those who claimed they knew either a “moderate amount” or “a lot” about nanotechnology before the study) had less concern about risk than did “low-knowledge” subjects (those who claimed than that they knew “nothing” or “only a little”) in both conditions. But the size of the differential was significantly larger in the argument condition.

Hamlett & Cobb, 2008
Citizen Technology Forums (CTF) in six cities in the United States throughout March 2008 (N=74). Citizens became informed about human enhancement technologies and they generated written reports about their concerns and recommendations regarding the development trajectory of these technologies.

All six sites, for example, expressed significant concern about (1) how to effectively regulate these new technologies and (2) they strongly endorsed programs intended to keep the public informed about human enhancement technology developments, including more deliberative panels and enhanced high school and K-12 education. On the issue of regulation, some sites advocated creating a new regulatory agency charged with managing these technologies, while others supported strengthening the Federal Drug Administration.

Pre-deliberation, for example, 82% of panelists were at least somewhat certain the benefits of enhancing human capabilities would exceed the risks; post-deliberation, however, the percentage was reduced to 66%. Likewise, deliberations increased emotional worry about affording enhancements. Before deliberation 63% were at least somewhat worried that the average family would not be able to afford enhancements; after deliberation, that percentage increased to 76%. Similarly, before deliberating, 48% of participants were at least somewhat worried that their own family would not be able to afford enhancements; after deliberating, that percentage jumped to 60%.

Kahan, Braman, Slovic, Gastil & Cohen, 2008
This is the second of Kahan’s cultural worldviews studies and confirmed earlier findings. The sample consisted of 1,850 subjects demographically weighted to reflect national representativeness and the data was collected in late 2006. . The subjects were administered an on-line survey-experiment that consisted of approximately 50 questions.

Within the no-information treatment, we found a correlation between familiarity with nanotechnology and perceptions of its risks and benefits. The vast majority of these subjects—over 80%—had heard either “a little” or “nothing at all” about nanotechnology before the study. Among the relatively small group of subjects familiar with nanotechnology—the ones who said they had previously heard either “some” or “a lot” about it—81% said they believed that the risks would outweigh the benefits, and only 17% that the benefits would out-weigh the risks. Among the much larger group who were relatively unfamiliar—those who said they had heard either “little” or “nothing” about nanotechnology—47% said that the benefits would outweigh the risks, and 40% that the risks would outweigh the benefits (Table 1).

Our results show that exposure to even a small amount of balanced in-formation about nanotechnology can result in polarization of this sort. Because individuals in the real world are much more likely to select information in a biased fashion that matches their cultural and political dispositions, one might anticipate even more extreme polarization outside the lab. Nanotechnology, on this view, could go the route of nuclear power and other controversial technologies, becoming a focal point of culturally infused political conflict.

Pigeon, Harthorn, Bryabt & Rogers-Hayden, 2008
This research involved four parallel workshops during 2007 in the USA and UK involving 12-15 people in each. One of the workshops in each country focused on energy and the other on human health and enhancement. It was supplement by a series of science cafes. They concluded benefit rather than risk continued to frame nanotech risk perception, applications means more than theory, and finally nanotechnologies so far do not appear to elicit beliefs about physical risk as such; rather, they stimulate discussion of social conditions.

Consistent with academic analysis of public discourses about new technology, and other qualitative studies of nanotechnologies in both countries, the issue of trust, and the potential activities of institutions such as government, regulatory agencies and corporations were discussed as a source of risk.

Scheufele, Corley, Shih, Dalrymple & Ho, 2009
The U.S. survey data was collected between 15 February and ended on 27 June
2007, using a dual frame method of national random digit dial and listed household phone survey. N = 1,015, with a response rate of 30%. The Eurobarometer public opinion surveys use a multistage national probability sampling technique, the Eurobarometer 64.3 provided opinion data collected from 29 countries through face-to-face interviews of 29,193 Europeans aged 15 and above. The fieldwork was conducted between 5 November and 7 December 2005.

Religious beliefs may be part of the value systems people use when they make sense of science and technology more broadly. Based on country-level data, we see a negative relationship between levels of religiosity and beliefs that nanotechnology is morally acceptable. The proportion of respondents who disagreed that nanotechnology was morally acceptable was highest in the United
States (24.9%) and lowest in Italy (7.3%). The percentages for respondents who agreed was highest in Belgium (82.4%) and lowest in Ireland (33.5%). The majority of respondents who saw nanotechnology as morally acceptable also supported nanotechnology under existing or tighter regulations. The authors claimed a robust relationship between levels of religiosity and public support for nanotechnology across all countries.

Corley & Scheufele, 2009
This study re-examines the 2004 and 2007 knowledge gap. The survey involved using a dual frame method of national random digit dial and listed household phone survey. N was 1,015 with a 30% response rate. They found while respondents with at least a college degree have experienced an overall increase in nanotechnology knowledge between 2004 and 2007, respondents with less than a high school degree have experienced a decrease in nanotechnology knowledge levels over the same time period. We also show that exposure to the internet significantly improves the knowledge level for those with the lowest levels of education while there is a lower positive impact of internet exposure on those with higher levels of formal education.

Our analyses showed that those respondents with at least a college degree displayed an increase in knowledge levels between 2004 and 2007 while respondents with education levels of less than a high school diploma had a significant decrease in nanotechnology knowledge levels between 2004 and 2007. These clear discrepancies in levels of factual knowledge about nanotechnology among U.S. respondents with the highest and lowest levels of formal education have both positive and negative implications. On the one hand, the significant learning that occurred for highly educated respondent in our data will hopefully attenuate concerns about static levels of awareness and knowledge about nanotechnology, at least for this subset of the population. On the other hand, however, our data suggest that efforts to increase public understanding about nanotechnology have not helped the group that might need it the most: those with the lowest levels of formal education. Among this group, nanotechnology knowledge levels have in fact decreased over time, suggesting that we have not done a good job of educating this segment of the public about an issue that may be increasingly difficult to understand for lay audiences, given fuzzy regulatory scenarios, inconclusive reports about risks, and limited coverage in mainstream media.

Our data results showed that internet exposure was significantly related to knowledge levels about nanotechnology over time, especially for those with low formal education levels. Exposure to television and newspapers was not significantly related to knowledge level. Respondents with higher levels of formal education displayed similar trends in knowledge levels between 2004 and 2007 regardless of whether they had low or high levels of internet exposure. At the moment, we are not just seeing existing gaps between citizens based on their educational attainment, but our data also illustrate widening gaps between the already information-rich and the information-poor. Closing these gaps is not an option; it is a necessity.