Effects of Value Predispositions, Mass Media Used, and Knowledge on Public Attitudes Towards Embryonic Stem Cell Research

The reading suggests that public attitudes toward stem cell research were shaped by value predispositions and news media to a lesser extent. Scientific knowledge played a minor role in influencing people’s attitude. Religiosity, ideology and deference to scientific authority are the keys to shape the pre-existing values of individuals. Findings from the panel survey will be included below.



Embryonic stem cell research is a highly controversial issue to highly religious individuals. For example, Christians believed that embryos are human beings created by God and are entitled to full moral protection (Ho et al. 2008) and thus, the destroying of embryo is as good as killing a person (NBAC 1999). Therefore, the religious predispositions of the people will classify the research as immoral and affect the support level.



Ideological predispositions will affect the support level of the people. For example, in recent studies, conservative members of the public have shown strong resistance and opposition to embryonic stem cell research (Weiss 2005; Slevin 2005). Hence, people with conservative ideology will not be supportive as they hold negative views toward the research.


Deference to Scientific Authority

The level of deference to scientific authority will determine the level of support by the people. People with high level of deference to scientific authority will see the needs for science to progress. Hence, they will be more supportive to the research.


News Media

News media has the potential to shape public opinion through framing of the research. An example is during the U.S. presidential Election in November 2004, Ron Reagan shows strong support towards stem cell research in order to find potential treatments for the diseases that caused his father’s death (Crampton 2004; Reinert 2004). The news media frame it in the way that strong support for the research is needed to find cure for the disease that even killed a formal president.


Scientific knowledge

Knowledge is one of the key factors to engage recipient of a persuasive message (Ho et al. 2008). However, this does not mean that it will alter the pre-existing values of people even though they are engaged with scientific knowledge.


Findings from Panel Survey

Religiosity and ideology moderate the effects of scientific knowledge as knowledge has a weaker effect on individuals who are highly religious and conservative. Hence, the effect of scientific knowledge is overshadowed.

Deference to scientific authority moderates the effects of scientific knowledge as knowledge has a stronger effect on individuals who believe the needs for science to progress in public interest.

News media acts as a platform to enhance the current value predispositions.

The results can conclude that only the broad-minded and individuals who have low religious beliefs and a high deference to scientific authority will be the ones that used their scientific knowledge to form opinion on the research.


My Views

Public opinions are greatly shaped by value predispositions and news media. Knowledge plays a significant small role in influencing the judgement of an individual. In my opinion, most individuals will rely less on their knowledge but more on their pre-existing values with the support of news media to shape their attitude on a particular issue.

 – slky87


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.


6 comments so far

  1. durianshells on

    In my opinion, people should put aside religiosity and ideology with regards to the embryonic stem cell research not let such issues affect the progress of further scientific progress. As mentioned in the article, stem cells maintain and regenerate organs and tissues in the body and these human embryonic stem cells can be programmed to treat many health problems like diabetes, AIDS and Parkinson’s disease (Johnson, 2004) and economic development. The potential benefits that can be derived from such research far out-weights any moral values and religious issues people may have against it. The fact is that although an embryo maybe a life. However, it has not made an impact in the lives of anyone unlike a living being who probably has family, friends, has an impact on their lives or even has the potential to make contributions to mankind. It would be ironic that the very people who have cried foul over such research may feel differently when their loved ones are in such predicament and would be praying to their god and religion, which opposes such research in the first place. The news article is mentioned to potentially be able to shape public opinion through framing. Individuals often use prominent news frames as heuristics to shape their judgment. (Scheufele & Lewenstein, 2005) I feel that the role the news media can play in this case is very important despite the fact that there are varying debates about this and the authors of this reading have mentioned that they cannot hypothesize that media use will be related to more positive attitudes towards stem cell research. The framing of this issue need not hide the facts but should highlight the benefits of such research and use real human stories thus playing on the human emotions. Do you agree?

  2. slky87 on

    I agree with your statement on framing which highlights the benefits of embryonic stem cell research. I personally feel that the news media has a part to play in shaping the value predisposition of the people and not supporting their current existing values. It should highlight the needs for science to progress and save more people from deadly diseases. Showing suffering of the victims can evoke the emotion of people (i.e. fear).

    An example is the anti-gambling or responsible campaign in Singapore. The advertisement is campaigned with the message “Often, the people who really suffer from problem gambling aren’t the gamblers.” This is to inform people that it is the family that suffers. I have attached the video of the advertisement below.

    The news media can actually use the suffering of the family as a crux for their campaign to show the needs for such research. This is to convey to the public that if there is a cure for those deadly diseases, affected family will no longer be the victim of tragedy. The one with the disease might be the breadwinner of the family. I feel that this will actually cause a emotional effect on the public. The news media can also educated the public on the importance of family values. Hence, it will shape their opinion and attitude towards the research.

    Nevertheless, news media including internet media should be playing a more important role in shaping public opinion.

  3. janisuhoshi on

    The paper ponders on whether pre-existing values or knowledge has a greater influence on our attitudes towards a controversial scientific issue. It presents various arguments from different scholars and each school of thought holds a legitimate stand. However, for scientists and advocates of science advancements, in order to engender public support for potentially controversial scientific explorations, one have to understand what exactly influence one’s receptivity and acceptance to a morally-charged issue, such as embryonic stem cell research that the authors, Ho et al. (2008), have focussed on in the paper.

    The paper points out that one’s religious belief and ideology could influence his/her support for stem cell research and affect how they receive cues from the media. A highly-religious person who believes that stem cell research is morally wrong as the religious doctrines oppose to it, would retain information from the media that resonates with their beliefs and be more opposed to stem cell research (Shen, 2004). A study found that highly-religious individuals were less likely to support stem cell research than those who are moderately religious (Nisbet, 2005). Ideological predispositions – conservative individuals as opposed to less-conservative individuals – can also influence one’s support of stem cell research (Nisbet, 2005). One’s predispositions can also motivate support for stem cell research like one’s deference to scientific authority that is cultivated by education as people were taught to perceive scientific works as objective and an honourable endeavour (Bimber & Guston, 1995; Irwin, 2001). This coincides with the argument that greater science knowledge, brought about by education, leads to positive attitudes to new technologies (Bodmer, 1985; Miller et al., 1997; Miller & Kimmel, 2001). However, there are studies that show otherwise, indicating that moral values and religious beliefs have a greater impact than scientific knowledge in shaping attitudes (Ho et al, 2008).

    So, value predispositions versus knowledge, which has a greater influence on public’s acceptance of new technologies or scientific explorations?

    The blogger, slky87, opines that one’s knowledge as opposed to one’s pre-existing values “with the support of news media” determines one’s attitude towards a particular issue. I concur with slky87 because I believe that one’s moral values guide how he/she receives and retain knowledge (selective perception and retention). One who is less religious or less conservative would be more receptive to scientific knowledge and would naturally perceive it positively.

    Then, how do we then influence those highly-religious people and conservative ones to support, say, stem cell research?

    Well, can we ignore them? Morals and ethics are subjective matters. My belief is such that as long as science does not take someone’s life and can save many people, it is moral and ethical. Are we suppose to accept that because one’s religion opposes to a potentially life-saving method that defies their doctrines, we have to sacrifice the lives of many other people who want to prolong their life and do not subscribe to the religious belief? THINK about this.

    I would like to add that the findings in the paper can serve as a good reference for other controversial issues like euthanasia and abortion where advocates of religions and science often clash on the legitimacy of these issues.

    – janisuhoshi

  4. snowkinz on

    I feel that the world is changing now ever since science is widespread as an education. people understand more and more about science and people will know that research will be good for the human kind. I think that when everyone becomes educated correctly with science, and with what the embryonic stem cell research may lead to, more people will support the research.

    Those with strong religious views clearly do not have a good background and understanding on science. i feel that the younger generation that is well educated with science will start to see these research as “normal.”

    the media should not present the information in a way that would let people fear about the destruction of embryos, but rather more on how the stemcells can help save lives.

    despite that, i think that when humans are faced with live and death, with only this solution to save their lives, their rationality will kick in and choose to support this research/method.

  5. exstarlight on

    Areas such as stem cell research is indeed a delicate topic for debate. Support stem cell research, and you’ll have angry mobs of religious groups and pro-life activists creating protests everywhere. If you don’t support stem cell research, Doctors and Scientists will say – Hey, the reason why we couldn’t find a cure is because people don’t support our research at all.

    Society is just hard to please.

    It’s very difficult to shape the public’s opinions towards stem cell research simply because, which I think, we don’t have immediate exposure to Scientific knowledge. The moment we’re born, we’re already drilled with a certain set of religious discipline to shape one part of our individual reasoning system. In school, Science is not the only subject we learn. Being in a country where it’s a knowledge-based-economy (KBE), academic achievements and chasing a successful career in life seems to be a dominating factor than to understand the significance of research. & on top of that, we’re all so busy with our lives that we trust whatever we see on the media, viewing the world very shallow-ly. There isn’t much rooom to actually think about these things.. So, those who take up the path to be a research scientist/ clinician scientist will continue to support this cause and those who doesn’t take on this route will continue to believe in their skewed opinion.

    Creating a featherless chicken as soon as it is hatch or creating a clone sheep because humans desire to live as an immortal. These aren’t groundless accusations of saying that there are people who wants to play as gods. Crazy people comes in all forms and sizes, rich and poor. Thus we can’t also blame the media coz there are good news about stem cell research and there’s also the evil side of it. The media tells us that we can’t assume that the world is just and live with strong sense of moral justice. So I think it is also not wrong to blame those who are against stem cell research.

    I think the Singapore government has quite a nice formula to undertake this issue, done from the ground up. (I may not necessarily support my government but anyway..) The government actually consulted with the public, religious groups and the scientific research communities (source: http://www.moh.gov.sg/content/moh_web/home/legislation/eConsultation/topics/public_consultationonthedraftregulationofbiomedicalresearchbill-.html) So, research that most especially is associated with the greatest ethical concern will be done within an agreed framework that is accepted by the abovementioned groups – everybody will be happy.

    To rationalise religion with research such as this one is very complex and may be a taboo. Everyone who has a religion is afraid to defy God’s words. The media can be a judge, religion can be a judge and even personal moral beliefs can be a judge. I think, through a more holistic education and revamping the education system will then create a more intellectually-thinking soceity then being spoon-fed and accepting events as-is from every sources of information/ authority.

  6. agneslpy on

    I agree with slky87’s view to a certain extent that most individuals will rely less on their knowledge but more on their pre-existing values with the support of news media to shape their attitude of an issue.

    However, I think that this may not really apply to the younger generation. Younger generation may be more receptive and prone to changing their mindset/pre-exisiting values with the wide exposure to social media, print media, television, websites and etcetera.

    The embryonic stem cell research may come as unacceptable due to personal values like religiosity and the public level of support/attitude due to ideology as mentioned by the author. This research can be seen as controversial as seen from different perspectives from individuals.

    I agree with the author that deference to scientific authority, news media and scientific knowledge can shape and affect one’s/ publics’ level of support. It gives and shows them more information or ‘evidence’ that is more persuasive which may affect their ways of thinking. Nevertheless, there are still other factors affecting and shaping the views of an individual or the public’s opinions. Overall this post has broken down the reading into sections and explained each point and makes it a pleasure to read. 🙂

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