Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2016

Degree Name

MA (Master of Arts)

Degree In


First Advisor

Bianchi, Alison

First Committee Member

Vasi, Ion

Second Committee Member

Hitlin, Steven

Third Committee Member

Harkness, Sarah


Sociologists have studied how organizations respond to perceived risks, but overlooked how individuals react to perceptions of organizational risks. We may expect individuals to avoid the goods and services of supposedly risky organizations, but how do other social judgments of organizations, such as those concerning reputation, relate to individuals’ risk aversion independently from their perceptions of risk? Social psychological theories on legitimacy and status and psychological theories on risk perception can bridge these gaps. Using data from the 2006 General Social Survey, this paper tests how individuals’ aversion to genetically modified foods (GMOs) relates to their perceptions of organizational risks and other qualities of business leaders, medical researchers, and political officials who are involved with producing, evaluating, and regulating GMOs. Logistic regression models find that individuals’ perceptions of medical researchers’ ignorance and disagreement about GMOs’ possible risks synergistically interact to increase the probability of rejecting GMOs. Individuals’ deferral of political influence to medical researchers attenuated the increased odds of rejecting GMOs among individuals who believe that industry scientists are disreputable. Surprisingly, perceived risks among business and political leaders were unrelated to GMO aversion. These results extend sociological risk research by demonstrating how individuals’ responses to perceived organizational risks are shaped by social characteristics such as reputations. Finally, links are drawn to inform social movement literatures and debates on GMOs, as reputational correlates exist independently from individuals’ knowledge of science, environmentalism, and generalized trust.


Genetic modification, Legitimacy, Organizations, Risk, Social Movements, Status


viii, 37 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 31-37).


Copyright © 2016 Alexander Martin Ruch

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