Open Access Open Badges Letters to the Editor

Word selection affects perceptions of synthetic biology

Brianna Pearson1, Sam Snell2, Kyri Bye-Nagel3, Scott Tonidandel2, Laurie J Heyer4 and A Malcolm Campbell1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, Davidson College, Davidson, NC 28035, USA

2 Department of Psychology, Davidson College, Davidson, NC 28035, USA

3 Department of Sociology, Davidson College, Davidson, NC 28035, USA

4 Department of Mathematics, Davidson College, Davidson, NC 28035, USA

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Journal of Biological Engineering 2011, 5:9  doi:10.1186/1754-1611-5-9

Published: 21 July 2011


Members of the synthetic biology community have discussed the significance of word selection when describing synthetic biology to the general public. In particular, many leaders proposed the word "create" was laden with negative connotations. We found that word choice and framing does affect public perception of synthetic biology. In a controlled experiment, participants perceived synthetic biology more negatively when "create" was used to describe the field compared to "construct" (p = 0.008). Contrary to popular opinion among synthetic biologists, however, low religiosity individuals were more influenced negatively by the framing manipulation than high religiosity people. Our results suggest that synthetic biologists directly influence public perception of their field through avoidance of the word "create".

synthetic biology; ethics; education; religiosity; framing effects; public perception