Opinions about genetically modified food may have more to do with feelings than science, according to findings by researchers from four universities.

According to research by the University of Colorado and three other universities, published recently in “Nature Human Behavior,” the most ardent GMO opponents are the least schooled in the science and overestimate their own knowledge of the subject.

Genetically modified organisms (GMO), or bioengineered organisms (BE), have had DNA altered or modified in some way through genetic engineering.

In a survey scientifically designed to represent the population of the United States, researchers set out to measure the public’s knowledge and attitudes about GMOs. They found those who scored the lowest in scientific knowledge were among the strongest opponents to GMOs.

Joining CU in the research were scholars at Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Toronto, and the University of Pennsylvania. Philip Fernbach, CU marketing professor, was the lead author. Divisive scientific topics are a focus of Fernbach’s research.

In this report, he says people have many reasons to oppose GMOs, but the research team found the stregth of the opposition comes from the strident views of the extremists.

And that runs counter to the fact that GMOs are safe for human consumption, according to most scientific organizations.

Fernbach says extreme beliefs sometimes stem from people overestimating their own scientific knowledge. He contends policymakers and others involved in teaching the public about science and technology can learn from research findings on such topics.

Nick Night, another CU researcher, says previous research in psychology found humans have a tendency to overestimate how well they understand even simple things. He says the problem is that the tendency is stronger among extremists

The University of Colorado system includes public universities in Boulder, Colorado Springs, Denver, and at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora.

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