Language matters: Defining nanotech for lay audiences can impact attitudes and understanding (2011)


Nanotechnology encompasses a wide range of research and applications. A comprehensive understanding of nanotechnology therefore includes at least four basic ideas:(1) scale (2) properties (3) applications, and (4) risks and benefits. We examine how these various definitions influence public understanding, support, and efficacy of nanotechnology. Based on responses from a survey sampled from the national population, we find that an applications-based definition increases support for nano, while a definition based on risks and benefits increases individuals’ need for more information about nano issues. Our findings show that language matters tremendously for how we communicate about nanotechnology to lay audiences.

After reading an applications-based definition of nanotechnology, people are significantly more supportive of nanotechnology than those who read a definition based on the risks and benefits (Mean difference = .77 p ≤ .001) and a comprehensive definition (Mean difference = .84 p ≤ .001).