Genetically modified foods continue to be a hot topic within the world of food, but one study is suggesting that we make sure we are legitimately informed of the subject before shaping our opinion as to whether they are good or bad.
According to an analysis of survey results from over 2,500 respondents, those with a higher self-assessed knowledge about genetically modified foods – meaning those who believed they possessed more knowledge than they actually did – were more likely to see an increase in opposition to the foods, versus those with objective knowledge of the subject, in which case the level of opposition decreased.
The study, published in Nature Human Behaviour, was led by researchers at the University of Colorado, University of Washington in St. Louis, University of Toronto, and University of Pennsylvania, as a way to look at the psychology of extremism and how it relates to scientific consensus perspectives, which in this case, dealt with the socially sensitive subject of genetically modified foods (GMOs).
Public surveys were conducted throughout the United States, France, and Germany. Participants were asked how they felt about genetically modified foods and then asked to judge their understanding of the subject overall. Finally, participants were asked to complete a scientific literacy test to gauge their knowledge of science-related issues, some of the questions related to genetics to provide researchers with a genetics literacy subscale.
“The extremists are more poorly calibrated. If you don’t know much, it’s hard to assess how much you know,” stated University of Colorado researcher, Phillip Fernbach. “The feeling of understanding that they have then stops them from learning the truth. Extremism can be perverse in that way.”
The results of the GMO survey can be linked to other social debates such as global warming, evolution, and sentiments towards childhood vaccinations. The more you think you know, the more likely it is that your opinions skew towards extremism.
“Extremists think they understand this stuff already,” Fernbach added, “so they are not going to be very receptive to education. You first need to get them to appreciate the gaps in their knowledge.”
So how can we combat this sort of extremism? Better education is one key element, but individual willingness to accept, or at least empathize with differing perspectives than our own is probably one of the most impactful things that we can do to collaboratively change the narrative of social extremism. Easier said than done, but perhaps keep this in mind the next time you are asked about your opinion of GMOs.