Two people in a supermarket. One is holding a can of food, which they are both examining.

Will people buy it?

CSIRO psychological research has cast light on consumer acceptance of technological innovations, including genetic engineering.

  • 16 February 2007 | Updated 12 January 2012

Behavioural scientists in the Food Futures Flagship have a question that concerns research and development organisations around the world - how will the public respond to a particular technological innovation?

The results

The research looked at several questions about how people respond to new technologies. These included:

  • how do people make decisions about new technologies
  • what are the characteristics that make technological innovations acceptable or unacceptable to the public
  • what are the characteristics of people that make them more or less accepting of new technologies?

The researchers confirmed that people do not painstakingly weigh up risks and benefits of an innovation in deciding whether or not it is acceptable to them.

Rather, people tend to make overall judgements of acceptability based in part on a sort of ‘gut feeling’ as well as on considerations such as:

  • what is it to be used for
  • is it necessary or just an indulgence?

Not surprisingly, medical advances and innovations that deliver health or other important benefits to society are likely to be much better received than indulgent or luxury applications. For example, new foods or food additives are more acceptable when they offer a health benefit.

The research looked specifically at how people view innovations in genetic engineering. Contrary to a common view in science and industry, they found:

  • opposition to genetic engineering cannot be explained by:
    • a lack of education
    • lack of understanding of science, or
    • lack of trust in scientists
  • providing more information does not lead to greater acceptance of genetic engineering
  • opposition to genetic engineering is not a sign of:
    • a general aversion to change
    • self-transcendent values, such as being very pro-nature or concerned for others, or
    • environmentalist attitudes.

Acceptance of genetic engineering was found to be most strongly related to a person’s receptiveness to science and technology in general.

Outcomes

The research helps scientists to understand under what circumstances people will be accepting of new products.

This will help the food industry to plan research and develop products that are more likely to interest consumers.

Who was involved

The research was part of an ongoing project by the Food Futures Flagship into consumer attitudes towards new food products and ingredients.

The research was led by Dr Philip Mohr and included scientists from the Flagship and CSIRO's Human Nutrition group.

Find out more about our work in Consumer engagement.