Communicating about the Risks and Benefits of Genetically Modified Foods: The Mediating Role of Trust

Authors


* Address correspondence to Lynn J. Frewer, Wageningen University and Research Centres, Department of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour, Hollandseweg 1, NL-6706 KN Wageningen, The Netherlands; tel: +31 317 483385; fax: +31 317 484361; Lynn.Frewer@wur.nl.

Abstract

Recent research suggests that public attitudes toward emerging technologies are mainly driven by trust in the institutions promoting and regulating these technologies. Alternative views maintain that trust should be seen as a consequence rather than a cause of such attitudes. To test its actual role, direct as well as mediating effects of trust were tested in an attitude change experiment involving 1,405 consumers from Denmark, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. After prior attitudes to genetic modification in food production had been assessed, participants received different information materials (either product-specific information or balanced/general information about genetic modification in food production) and were asked to evaluate different types of genetically modified foods (either beer or yoghurt). The information materials were attributed to different information sources (either an industry association, a consumer organization, or a government source). After completion, perceived risk and perceived benefit were assessed, and participants indicated their trust in the information sources to which the materials had been attributed. Direct and trust-mediated attitude change effects were estimated in a multi-sample structural equation model. The results showed that information provision had little effect on people's attitudes toward genetically modified foods, and that perceptions of information source characteristics contributed very little to attitude change. Furthermore, the type of information strategy adopted had almost no impact on postexperimental attitudes. The extent to which people trusted the information sources appeared to be driven by people's attitudes to genetically modified foods, rather than trust influencing the way that people reacted to the information. Trust was not driving risk perception—rather, attitudes were informing perceptions of the motivation of the source providing the information.

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