GAINESVILLE, Fla. — First impressions are important. So much so that even armed with new information, many people won’t change their minds about genetically modified foods and global warming, a new University of Florida study shows.
In fact, some grow even more stubborn in their beliefs that GMOs are unsafe, said Brandon McFadden, an assistant professor in food and resource economics in the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
After they read scientific information stating that genetically modified foods are safe, 12 percent of the study’s participants said they felt such foods were less safe – not more, much to McFadden’s astonishment.
That’s partly because people form beliefs and often never let go of them, he said.
“This is critical and hopefully demonstrates that as a society we should be more flexible in our beliefs before collecting information from multiple sources,” McFadden said. “Also, this indicates that scientific findings about a societal risk likely have diminishing value over time.”
For the study, published in the current issue of the journal Food Policy, McFadden led a research project that surveyed 961 people across the U.S. via the Internet in April 2013.
To assess their beliefs about genetically modified foods, participants were asked to respond to statements such as: “Genetically modified crops are safe to eat.” To gauge their beliefs about humans and global warming, they responded to statements such as: “The Earth is getting warmer because of human actions.”
Then they were given scientific information about genetically modified foods and global warming.
For example, researchers showed them this quote from the National Research Council regarding genetically modified food: “To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.”