How to immunize children against allure of anti-science, emotion-based thinking on GMOs

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Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have met with public opposition over the past two decades. Many people believe that GMOs are bad for their health and  the environment. This is in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence that proves that GMOs are safe to eat, and bring environmental benefits. Why is a discrepancy between the science and what people think? Some concerns, such as herbicide resistance in weeds and the involvement of multinationals, are not without basis, but they are not specific to GMOs. Hence, the question we need to answer is why these arguments become more salient in the context of GMOs.

I recently published a paper, with a group of Belgian biotechnologists and philosophers from Ghent University, arguing that negative representations of GMOs are compelling because they are intuitively appealing. They tap into emotions that mostly work under the radar of conscious awareness, capture our attention, are remembered and thus stand a greater chance of being transmitted even if they are untrue. Thus, many people oppose GMOs just because it intuitively makes sense that they would pose a threat.

The impact of intuitions and emotions on people’s attitudes towards GMOs has important implications for science education and communication. Because the mind is prone to distorting or rejecting scientific information in favour of more intuitive beliefs, simply transmitting the facts will not persuade people especially if they have been subjected to emotive, anti-GMO propaganda.

In the long run, education starting from a young age and specifically targeted at tackling common misconceptions might immunize the population against unsubstantiated anti-GMO messages. For now, we should play into people’s intuitions as well by emphasizing the benefits of current and future GM applications.

Read full, original post: Why People Oppose GMOs Even Though Science Says They Are Safe

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