Splitting identities: The effects of religion, political identity, interest in science, and personal interest on attitudes about embryonic stem cell research


My research takes up the question of the relative effects of religious identity, political identity, knowledge of science and stem cell research, and personal interest on attitudes towards science in general and embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) in particular. Structural equation modeling is used to construct associative models of attitudes towards stem cell research using data from the 2005 Virginia Commonwealth University Life Sciences Survey. Using social identity theory and rational choice theory I hypothesize that, education, being informed about ESCR, interested in science, having a personal interest in ESCR (seeing it as beneficial to yourself or a sick family member) are predictive of positive attitudes about ESCR. I also hypothesize that being highly religious and having a fundamentalist or Catholic religious identity will predict negative attitudes towards ESCR. I constructed associative models of attitudes using structural equation modeling in Amos. Findings indicate that religious affiliation, as well as religiosity, have strong direct effects on attitudes toward stem cell research. However, this is only the case for Fundamentalist Protestants and Catholics. Being Fundamentalist has strong effects on how interested individuals are about scientific discovery but not how informed people feel about stem cell research. For Fundamentalists, being informed about stem cell research has no significant impact on attitudes about stem cell research. However, even for Fundamentalist Christians, seeing stem cell research as beneficial in saving the life of a loved one (personal interest) was a significant predictor of attitudes. This was the case regardless of how informed respondents felt they were about ESCR. Interestingly, personal interest was not a significant predictor for Catholics. Conversely, for mainline Protestants, religiosity was not predictive of stem cell attitudes. Seeing stem cell research as potentially beneficial in save the life of a loved was a strong and significant predictor of attitudes for this group. Political party affiliation and education was not a significant predictor of attitudes for any of the groups. Using social identity theory and rational choice theory, I have been able to capture the predictors of attitudes at the individual level and see how the psychological ties to groups (including our own families) influence how we see ESCR. Having a personal stake in the research diminished the association between religiosity and ESCR attitudes for all groups, and negated the effect of religiosity for Mainline Protestants. Interestingly, being more educated on about ESCR did not have much effect for any group. I conclude that highly educated segments are present on both sides of the stem cell debate. Identity is stronger among those with clear definitions of life and embryo. Suggestions for further research on within and between religions are suggested, as well as the need for longitudinal analysis

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oaioai:docs.lib.purdue.edu:dissertations-8922Last time updated on 6/25/2012

This paper was published in Purdue E-Pubs.

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