Ambiguity and Consumer Perceptions of Risk in Various Areas of Biotechnology

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Certain advances in biotechnology generate controversy, with consumer resistance derived from publicly expressed concerns about safety, despite scientific evidence of safety. The reasons for this discrepancy are not fully understood. This study aimed to understand how participants respond to biotechnology when some ambiguity about risk or uncertainty is presented. A sample of 318 adults completed a survey assessing aversion to ambiguous information in controversial areas such as food, vaccines, fluoridated water, and stem cell research. Participants responded to ambiguity assessments and 14 scenarios in these categories that contained a description of a benefit and either missing or conflicting information about an unknown risk or uncertainty. Participants who reported greater aversion to ambiguity tended to respond in a way that signals the assignment of high risk, and low benefit, when presented with some unknown or uncertain risk. The results of the present study can be used to develop methods to close the divide.