Genetically modified food (or G.M.O.’s) continue to provoke heated debates about safety and labeling, even though scientific evidence indicates they’re safe. Why? A new article in Cosmos by David Ropeik explores the psychology behind people’s G.M.O. fears. Here is Ropeik on why man-made risks “feel” scarier than natural risks.
Beyond those heuristics, several specific emotional characteristics also make G.M.O.’s feel scary. These “fear factors” have been identified in pioneering research in risk perception by Paul Slovic at the University of Oregon, Baruch Fischhoff at Carnegie Mellon University, and others. You can hear them pop up as the young man explains his fears. “It’s just not natural to take the gene from one species and put it in another. It’s just not natural!”