From enabling technology to applications: The evolution of risk perceptions about nanotechnology

Michael A. Cacciatore, Dietram A. Scheufele, Elizabeth Corley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


Public opinion research on nanotechnology has primarily focused on judgments of abstract risks and benefits, rather than attitudes toward specific applications. This approach will be less useful as nanotechnology morphs from a scientific breakthrough into an enabling technology whose impacts on people's lives come in the form of concrete applications in specific areas. This study examines the mental connections or associations US citizens have with nanotechnology (e.g. the extent to which people associate nanotechnology with the medical field, the military, consumer products, etc.), and how these associations moderate the influences of risk and benefit perceptions on attitudes toward nanotechnology. Our results suggest that the assumption that risk perceptions shape overall attitudes toward emerging technologies is simplistic. Rather, individuals who associate nanotech with particular areas of application, such as the medical field, take risk perceptions much more into account when forming attitudes than respondents who do not make these mental connections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)385-404
Number of pages20
JournalPublic Understanding of Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2011


  • Heuristics
  • Mental associations
  • Nanotechnology
  • Opinion formation
  • Risk
  • Science

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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