Trust in Risk Regulation: Cause or Consequence of the Acceptability of GM Food?

Authors

  • Wouter Poortinga,

    Corresponding author
      *Address correspondence to Wouter Poortinga, Centre for Environmental Risk, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK; tel: +44 (0) 1603 59 13 40; fax: +44 (0) 1603 59 13 27; w.poortinga@uea.ac.uk.
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      Centre for Environmental Risk, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK.
  • Nick F. Pidgeon

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      Centre for Environmental Risk, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK.

*Address correspondence to Wouter Poortinga, Centre for Environmental Risk, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK; tel: +44 (0) 1603 59 13 40; fax: +44 (0) 1603 59 13 27; w.poortinga@uea.ac.uk.

Abstract

Although there is ample empirical evidence that trust in risk regulation is strongly related to the perception and acceptability of risk, it is less clear what the direction of this relationship is. This article explores the nature of the relationship, using three separate data sets on perceptions of genetically modified (GM) food among the British public. The article has two discrete but closely interrelated objectives. First, it compares two models of trust. More specifically, it investigates whether trust is the cause (causal chain account) or the consequence (associationist view) of the acceptability of GM food. Second, this study explores whether the affect heuristic can be applied to a wider number of risk-relevant concepts than just perceived risk and benefit. The results suggest that, rather than a determinant, trust is an expression or indicator of the acceptability of GM food. In addition, and as predicted, “affect” accounts for a large portion of the variance between perceived risk, perceived benefit, trust in risk regulation, and acceptability. Overall, the results support the associationist view that specific risk judgments are driven by more general evaluative judgments The implications of these results for risk communication and policy are discussed.

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