Friday, March 31, 2023

Cognitive Processes Behind GMO Opposition

Philosophers and plant biotechnologists in Belgium have found cognitive processes that are behind why people are opposed to GMOs, even as GMOs have been found to be safe. GMOs, also known as genetically modified organisms, account for 80 percent of the food people consume from the store. There is a growing anti-GMO sentiment, which stems from some people being worried about the chemicals being used on the crops, but it actually goes a lot deeper than that.

GMOs1The researchers published the study results in Trends in Plant Science, where they argue that the human mind is very susceptible to negative and emotional representations. These negative and emotional representations come from environmental groups and opponents of GMOs, such as Dr. Oz. The researchers went on to say that the public should be forming their own views about GMOs by testing the end result or product, and not saying it is good or bad all the way around. Researchers say that you should not be focusing on the technology aspect of GMOs, but make judgments based on each individual product.

In the study, the researchers found that the anti-GMO messages are appealing to specific emotions and intuitions. Lead study author, Stefaan Blancke, is a philosopher with Ghent University Department of Philosophy and Moral Sciences. Stefaan argued in the paper that “Negative representations of GMOs–for instance, like claims that GMOs cause diseases and contaminate the environment–tap into our feelings of disgust and this sticks to the mind. These emotions are very difficult to counter, in particular because the science of GMOs is complex to communicate.”

What is going on is that people who share this anti-GMO sentiment are often not understanding the science behind genetically modified organisms. Since the people are not able to understand the genetics, they simply rather just oppose it than try to understand the process involved. There is also a moral argument that some people make, because some people claim GMO foods are “playing God” and that creating GMOs is messing with how nature intended things to be. Blancke argues that there is more going on than just religious beliefs, but some of the anti-GMO sentiment comes from people just thinking things happen for a reason. Blancke says that thinking everything happens for a reason puts thoughts into our heads that we shouldn’t be messing with nature, because nature itself has a specific purpose.

Blancke and his co-authors of the study suggested that the scientific community is not doing a good idea at influencing the public, compared to the environmental groups that are opposing GMOs. In terms of getting a message out, environmental groups who oppose GMOs are able to tap into the psychology of the mind. These anti-GMO groups are pulling on various emotions and also pulling on gut feelings about GMOs, while the scientific community just relays the facts. The science behind GMOs is very difficult and complex, which is hard to explain to just a regular person who does not have the understanding on the matter. If scientific researchers come out and talk about why GMOs are good and safe, no one will listen, because it’s a hard message to get out in a way that taps into the emotional aspect of people’s belief system.

Blancke says that you have to look at GMOs on a case-by-case basis, not making a snap judgment one way or the other. The authors of the study believe that the supporters of GMOs need to start educating people through various programs, and putting up a lot of information about facts and myths of GMOs. Since the scientific community has a disadvantage because of the complexity of the process behind GMOs, they as a group need to come together and find out how to get the message out in simple terms to the people. The supporters and opposition need to come together in order to make the public informed about the products in a simple way, and this will help people feel more comfortable about the GMOs.

Jeanne Rose
Jeanne Rose lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has been a freelance writer since 2010. She took Allied Health in vocational school where she earned her CNA/PCA, and worked in a hospital for 3 years. Jeanne enjoys writing about science, health, politics, business, and other topics as well.


  1. This is why I try not to eat processed foods. They are the ones with the GMOs in them, not the fresh fruits and veggies, although they have pesticides all over them. I wish I could afford to buy organic.


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