Here's a funny: genetically modified food. Okay, maybe it's not so funny. But people's reactions to it certainly are.
Although numerous scientific studies validate the safety and benefits of genetically modified foods (also known as transgenic or transgenic foods), people simply refuse to be convinced.
Should we be surprised? Maybe not: Americans generally do not know much about food.
The delightful irony in all this missing knowledge is that – when it comes to transgenic foods, at least – many of those who think they know the most actually end up knowing the least.
But do not believe my word.
A new study conducted by marketing researcher Phil Fernbach of the University of Colorado Boulder has researched more than 2,000 adults based in the United States, France and Germany on their views on transgenic foods.
The researchers also asked participants how they thought they understood the topic of transgenic foods and tested their knowledge of science and genetics with a series of true or false claims.
For example: "Common tomatoes do not have genes, while the genetically modified tomatoes." Or this: "" All plants and animals have DNA. "
The results were enlightening.
"With increasing opposition to GM food, objective knowledge of science and genetics has declined, but self-rated knowledge has increased," the authors explain in their article.
In other words, those who were most strongly opposed to transgenic foods in the experiment tended to believe they were highly knowledgeable about the subject, but actually demonstrated a reduced understanding of science and genetics compared to other participants.
It's fun, of course, but according to researchers, it's not really surprising.
"This result is perverse but consistent with previous research on the psychology of extremism," Fernbach says.
"Extreme visions often originate in people who think they understand complex topics better than they do."
According to the team, results like this reveal a strange and self-perpetuating paradox that makes it difficult to cope with the imbalance of knowledge.
The phenomenon – also known as the Dunning-Kruger effect – is not limited to transgenic foods, but can exist in other areas where people with extreme and overconfident views misinterpret science (and its own limitations).
"Those with stronger visions of consensus are the ones who need the most education, but also those who are less likely to be receptive to learning; overconfidence in knowledge is associated with less openness to new information," the researchers explain.
"This suggests that a prerequisite for changing people's views through education can lead them to first gauge the gaps in their knowledge."
Scientists in the world, good luck with that.
The results are reported in Human nature behavior.