Hans Peter Peters is a senior researcher at the Program Group Humans–Environment–Technology of the Research Center Jülich, Germany, and adjunct professor at the Institute for Media and Communication Studies of the Free University Berlin. His research deals with science communication and the formation of public opinion on science, technology, and the environment under the conditions of a media society.
John T. Lang is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in the Department of Sociology at Rutgers University, USA. His dissertation examines how trustworthy experts and organizations help the public navigate uncertainty surrounding genetically modified food. In general, his work deals with risk, public understanding of emerging technologies, and how social actors form trust relationships within organizational and institutional settings.
Magdalena Sawicka is currently a Ph.D. student at the Research Center Jülich, Germany. Her research focuses on concepts of nature and their impact on attitudes towards food biotechnology in Germany, Poland, and the USA. Other fields of interests are environmental sociology, cultural sociology, STS (science, technology, society), science communication, and gender studies.
William K. Hallman is a professor in the Department of Human Ecology and Director of the Food Policy Institute at Rutgers University, USA. His research examines public perceptions of risks related to food, health, and the environment.
Hans Peter Peters, John T. Lang, Magdalena Sawicka, William K. Hallman; Culture and Technological Innovation: Impact of Institutional Trust and Appreciation of Nature on Attitudes towards Food Biotechnology in the USA and Germany. Int J Public Opin Res 2007; 19 (2): 191-220. doi: 10.1093/ijpor/edm004
Using ‘general trust in institutions’ and ‘concepts of nature’ as examples, the article analyzes the influence of cultural factors on sense-making of food biotechnology and the resulting public attitudes in the USA and Germany. According to the hypotheses investigated, different levels of trust and appreciation of nature explain part of the well-known differences in attitudes between both countries. The analysis of a cross-cultural survey of the general population shows that appreciation of nature is a predictor of attitudes in both countries. The higher appreciation of nature in Germany partly explains why attitudes towards food biotechnology are more negative in Germany than in the USA. The relationship between trust and attitudes is more complex than expected, however. Institutional trust is a moderate predictor of attitudes towards food biotechnology in the USA but not in Germany. To explain the varying effectiveness of trust in resolving innovation-related uncertainty we refer to differences in issue framing in both countries and to the higher degree of universalism and individualism in the USA. We conclude that the higher relevance of trust and the lower appreciation of nature make the U.S. culture more apt to assimilate technical innovations than the German culture.