Values is the Determinant in Shaping Attitudes

Posted by Axl Hu Mengda, 21042303

Would you support a modern scientific research which involves killing? Some scholars argued that increase in scientific knowledge would lead to more support for such controversial scientific researches. However, according to the study by Ho, Brossard and Scheufele in 2008, the public has more complex cognitive processing.

Stem cells can be programmed to treat various diseases such as AIDS, diabetes, but involving the destruction of human embryos makes the stem cell research extremely controversial in the USA, for religious conservatives equate this act to taking the life of a human being.

In that context, Ho, Brossard and Scheufele tried to determine to what extent public attitude towards stem cell research was influence by value, mass media and scientific knowledge. They designed a longitudinal, multi-wave method of collection to get the data from a same group of respondents in the USA between 2002 and 2005.

Surprisingly, the result of their study indicated that scientific knowledge played an almost negligible role in shaping attitudes toward stem cell research, while individuals tended to rely more on their values, such as religious beliefs, ideological predisposition (Liberal or Conservative) when making a judgments about the stem cell research.

Although scientific knowledge or information provided by mass media have moderate influence to support for stem cell research, individual’s value also play a dominant role through the knowledge-attitude process. For highly religious and conservative respondents, the influence of knowledge on support for the stem cell research is significantly weaker than for those who with low religiosity and liberal value. Additionally, respondents who believe that scientists will make decisions are more likely to accept the new scientific knowledge and to form attitudes based on new knowledge.

So, the study gives a profound point for science communication study that providing sufficient knowledge and relevant information might have impact on public attitude, while understanding public’s value is the key to get the attitude or support that we want.

Personally, I think this is a perfect explanation for that Chinese ‘One-child Policy’ is not as controversial in China as in the USA. Besides the demographic knowledge that Chinese government keeps beating into public’s heads, cost of having babies, equality between sexes, decrease of physical labour play more important roles in changing and altering public traditional value. Chinese government also sets out to change people’s value by all means, to make the policy more acceptable for billions of couples. Very small fraction of couples in China think the policy is an offence to their freedom, while Americans government often regards it as a human right abuse.

Pic from QQVIEW
“Daughter carries on family line as well.” A poster painted on the wall by a town government. Chinese traditionally prefer boys over girls because they are seen as more able to provide for the family and carry on the family line.

Apparently, in some cases, the conflict of values would be harsh when we “get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own”, but that’s the only “secret of success”. (Henry Ford, 1937)


Ho, SS, Brossard, D and Scheufele, DA. 2008. Effects of value predispositions, mass media used, and knowledge on public attitudes towards embryonic stem cell research. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 20: 171- 192.


4 comments so far

  1. selinamj on

    Wow, I found this article and post very interesting and as you mentioned I also think it has significant implications for science communication.
    To be honest these findings don’t really come as much of a surprise to me especially because the key assumption of the ‘scientific literacy model’ is that the public needs to be willing to seek out relevant information to make informed decisions. We know that in almost all circumstances people will take the path that requires least effort. In this case that means relying on social cues because, as Ho, Brossard and Scheufele said, “heuristic processing requires less cognitive effort than systematic processing”. As a result of this people defer to the views and opinions of their leaders, whether that be political or religious. This article also pointed out that people who held positive views of on controversial topics were likely to be people who deferred to scientific authority rather than religious authority.
    A second point that was raised is that people use information in different ways depending on their pre-existing values. Meaning that early socialisation and value development ends up acting as a ‘perceptual filter’ when considering the information related to these issues.
    If we take these things into consideration what is the way forward for science communicators in trying to influence opinions on controversial issues?
    Would a two pronged communication strategy that targeted authority figures on one hand and children (through teachers) on the other be of any benefit?

    • axl1228 on

      Yes, as you mentioned, ‘perceptual filter’ is formed by people’s pre-existing value, by early socialisation and value development, which is much harder to alter than scientific knowledge.
      I think a good way for communicators to influence public opinions upon controversial topics would involve heuristic information as well as, more importantly, new values. And these new values or beliefs cannot be so contradictory against the pre-existing value of the audience, so that a tolerance of new values can be given.
      The second point you mentioned is more interesting. Children’s values and beliefs are comparatively easier to form or change, and their links between scientific knowledge and value would be more stable. However, the process which involves education, practice, influence of parenting, etc. would be longer. It may take several generation to fully communicate a new technology or achievement.

  2. Noelynn on

    This article is an interesting one.
    If the modern scientific research involving killing provides a reasonable outcome, then it maybe wise to accept. However, to explain the resultants would off course require simple and clear communication strategies. The population from children to matured adults are on the receiving end. Therefore, clarity and being succinctive should be the approach to convey the message across.

  3. noelynn on

    To be sucessful in communicating scientific knowledge to the varying audience on the receiving end, calls for an understanding of the risks involved. Therefore, simplicity and clarity should be paramount to risk communication.

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