Abstract

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.

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