The journal Food Policy just published a paper by Brandon McFadden and me that explores how consumers respond to scientific information about genetically engineered foods and about climate change. The paper was motivated by some previous work we'd done where we found that people didn't always respond as anticipated to television advertisements encouraging them to vote for or against mandatory labels on GMOs.
In this study, respondents were shown a collection of statements from authoritative scientific bodies (like the National Academies of Science and United Nations) about the safety of eating approved GMOs or the risk of climate change. Then we asked respondents whether they were more or less likely to believe GMOs were safe to eat or whether the earth was warming more than it would have otherwise due to human activities.
We classified people as "conservative" (if they stuck with their prior beliefs regardless of the information), "convergent" (if they changed their beliefs in a way consistent with the scientific information), or "divergent" (if they changed their beliefs in a way inconsistent with the scientific information).
We then explored the factors that explained how people responded to the information. As it turns out, one of the most important factors determining how you respond to information is your prior belief. If your priors were that GMOs were safe to eat and that global warming was occurring, you were more likely to find the information credible and respond in a "rational" (or Bayesian updating) way.
Here are a couple graphs from the paper illustrating that result (where believers already tended to believe the information contained in the scientific statements and deniers did not). As the results below show, the "deniers" were more likely to be "divergent" - that is, the provision scientific information caused them to be more likely to believe the opposite of the message conveyed in the scientific information.
We also explored a host of other psychological factors that influenced how people responded to scientific information. Here's the abstract:
An excerpt from the conclusions: