SEBS - Human Ecology
Non Technical Summary
Food production, processing, and packaging and agricultural practices are already being transformed as the result of the research, development, and adoption of nanotechnology and nanoscale materials. While a few such products are already available on the market, many more are in the research and development stage. The potential market for such food and agricultural products is projected to be enormous. As a result, both government and the food industry are making large investments in nanotechnology. However, the returns on these investments can only be realized if customers are willing to buy the resulting products. As such, whether the promise of nanotechnology can be fulfilled depends as much upon consumers' perceptions and acceptance of nanotech products as it does on the ability to create them. Thus, the success of food and agricultural nanotechnology depends both on the ability to manipulate matter at the nanoscale and to successfully market the resulting products. Rather than investing in the creation of nanotech-based products and then trying to convince consumers that they should accept those products and the technology used to produce them, many have called for a more thoughtful approach to investing in the development of food nanotechnology. This more market-driven approach suggests that investments should be made first in technologies and products that are most likely to appeal to consumers, thus finding a ready market. Such valued products would then introduce the technology to consumers and give them positive experiences with it, perhaps paving the way for other applications.Research strongly supports the idea that where people start in their imaginations about nanotechnology appears to influence their ability to think about nanotech as applied to food. The images used to communicate with consumers about nanotechnology in the popular media are likely to form the basis for those starting points, so are worth particular examination and evaluation. Recognizing that visuals are key to the public understanding of complex science concepts, this research will use a combination of eye tracking and survey methodologies to evaluate the role of nanotechnology images in the public understanding of and possible acceptance of food nanotechnology and the relationship of image to interpretation.
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories
Goals / Objectives
To enhance our understanding of how consumers are likely to perceive specific applications of food and agricultural nanotechnology and to understand how to better communicate key concepts and meanings of nanotechnology to the lay public, we propose the following goals:Complete a nationally representative survey that will:a. Examine role of naturalness in acceptance of food nanotechnology.b. Assess consumers' beliefs about the relationship of nanotechnology to healthfulness.c. Evaluate acceptability of nanomaterials in functional foods and pet food applications.d. Examine the parameters of acceptance with regard to future applications of food and agricultural nanotechnologye. Examine the acceptable characteristics of nano-enabled "smart food packaging"Develop and implement eye tracking research that will:a. Develop baseline knowledge of responses to nanotechnology images.b. Assess participant understanding of scale in nanotechnology images.c. Assess participant responses to iconic images of nanotechnology.d. Examine the role of knowledge on participant response to nanotechnology images.Complete an online research panel that will use visuals to:a. Evaluate the meanings consumers derived from nanotechnology visuals.b. Examine how consumers interpret nanotechnology visuals.c.Assess use value of visuals communicating the potentials for nanotechnology.d.Examine how consumers use visuals to interpret nanotechnology concepts.
Study 1EffortsWe will work with GfK Custom Research to survey a sample of up to 1200 American adults, drawn from their KnowledgePanel©, which is composed of more than 30,000 respondents randomly selected using addressed based sampling. Participants will be asked to complete a study on "foods you like and your thoughts on some new techniques in making and packaging food." The survey will examine consumers' perceptions of the acceptability of a range of existing, "in the pipeline," and proposed food or agricultural products incorporating or produced through nanotechnology, varying on several dimensions. Using an experimental approach, we will examine as many of these factors as is feasible within the survey, as we anticipate that they will play a significant role in defining which products American consumers will accept. All properties will be randomized so that there will be no threat of order effects. Because there are many psychological and demographic factors that are out of the control of the researchers but that can greatly affect one's perceptions of technology, food, and their intersection, we will examine these as predictors and covariates. A battery of standard demographic items will be included as well.EvaluationSurvey results will be analyzed using a variety of approaches, ranging in their level of sophistication. The frequency of responses will be reported for individual items, where appropriate. Examples of where this would be useful are identifying the percentage of the general public said they would purchase a particular nanotechnology product, or ranking the particular concerns the public has about nanotechnology. Analyses such as factor analysis (Stevens, 2001) will allow us to understand the relationships among the various attitudes and opinions the public may hold about food and agricultural nanotechnology. Regression analysis will be used to identify those people most likely to be accepting of specific applications of food and agricultural nanotechnology, and to identify those attitudes and beliefs that are most closely related to acceptance of nanotechnology products. Additional analyses will be conducted as appropriate.Study 2EffortsTo evaluate the response to nanotechnology images, participants' responses will be collected using the Eye Tech Digital Systems VT2 Mini eye tracking system (https://www.eyetechds.com/vt2-mini.shtml). Up to 150 participants (>18 years) will be recruited through social media and word of mouth from the Central New Jersey. Following IRB approved consent procedures, participants will be given a pre-assessment of knowledge and awareness of nanotechnology, combined with an assessment of science attitudes and perceptions drawn from existing validated science identity measures. Participants will view a series of iconic images of nanotechnology for a fixed timeframe. Iconicity will be based on usage patterns of images across multiple media text and platforms and a review of the literature on nanotechnology visuals, as well as images drawn from popular fiction media (e.g., television shows, feature films) that have employed nanotechnology in the narrative. Following each image, participants will complete a follow up assessment asking question related to image perception and meaning. To examine the role of knowledge on response, half (N = 75) of the participants will view images that include information related to the image and nanotechnology. After viewing the final image the participant will complete a follow up assessment. EvaluationEye fixation pattern and eye movements will be analyzed using automatically using Gaze Tracker software (http://www.eyetellect.com/gazetracker/) for eye fixation patterns, scanpaths, distribution of gaze, and mean viewing duration. These data will be compared with the pre and post assessments to evaluate the role of gender, age, knowledge and scale on image response. Study 3EffortsBuilding on the results of the eye tracking research in Study II, we will select images to test with a sample of up to 1200 American adults, drawn from the GfK KnowledgePanel©. In addition to basic demographics, part of the information already known about each of the participants on the panel is particular media consumption patterns, including what newspapers they read, what TV programs they watch, and what magazines they read. We will supplement this information by asking more detailed questions about their consumption of media covering science, and their affinity for consuming science fiction (TV, movies, books). We will also gauge initial knowledge and attitudes toward nanotechnology using measures developed in our previous survey research. Participants will then be randomly assigned to experimental conditions where they will be exposed to specific images designed to illustrate and communicate key nanotechnology concepts, including scale, why nanomaterials are different from their bulk counterparts, and the kinds of applications in which nanotechnology is used. The participants will be asked to evaluate the meaning of these images, and how they would explain their content to another person who knew little or nothing about nanotechnology. After this anchoring exercise, they will then receive a series of questions regarding their conceptions of food nanotechnology and measures of how the images they viewed fit with these conceptions. Finally, the participants will be shown a series of images and asked to assign them to the concepts they think those images best represent.EvaluationThe results will be analyzed using univariate and multivariate approaches. The frequency of responses will be reported for individual items, where appropriate. Factor analysis (Stevens, 2001) will be used for data reduction. Regression analysis and ANOVA will be used to compare outcome measures evaluating the efficacy of the images in communicating key concepts. Additional analyses will be conducted as appropriate.