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University of Bayreuth, Press Release No 044 - 12 April 2024

Prejudices prevent people from eating insects and cultivated meat

A team from the University of Bayreuth has investigated the influence of heuristics, biases and other psychological factors on consumers’ perception of novel foods - i.e. foods made from insects or cultivated meat. The main factors driving rejection of novel foods are negative emotions, especially disgust and fear, coupled with personality traits and specific cultural norms. The meta-study has now been published in the journal "Appetite".

What for? 

The state of the planet - climate change, species extinction, dramatic increase in the world's population - make a shift from conventional food production towards more sustainable food systems unavoidable. There are already alternatives to meat from factory farming. It is now undisputed that insects, for example, are more climate-friendly than meat: They require less space and water and cause fewer greenhouse gas emissions. This is why more and more alternative foods are gradually being approved by regulatory authorities. However, acceptance on the market is still low. The Bayreuth researchers have investigated why.

Researchers from the University of Bayreuth and the University of Vienna compiled a systematic overview of almost 200 articles and analyzed them from a food law and nutritional psychology perspective. They investigated the extent to which half-knowledge, prejudices, emotions, and cultural norms influence the perception of novel food. "We wanted to see how heuristics -  that means mental shortcuts to make decisions under uncertainty -  and other psychological aspects, influence how consumers view novel foods," says Alessandro Monaco, junior researcher at the Chair of Food Law at the University of Bayreuth. "To do this, we took an interdisciplinary approach, adopting a legal perspective to define the scope of the research, and analysing how consumers’ psychological reactions are mirrored in the legal framework applicable to novel foods- Ultimately, our results have implications for policy-making."

The articles analyzed focused primarily on insects and cultivated meat. Monaco explains,: "Disgust and fear cause consumers to reject novel foods such as insects, even if these foods have desirable characteristics, such as being more sustainable or nutritionally beneficial. Similarly, consumers tend to prefer products that come from smaller, local companies rather than the multinationals that are currently driving the novel food market because they are perceived as untrustworthy." In addition, consumers prefer food that is perceived as natural and not altered by artificial or human intervention. "Interestingly, the recent political debate in the EU shows that the negative perception of novel foods remains strong even when the products are approved and proven safe. This is probably due to the complexity of the approval process, which is not sufficiently understood by the majority of the population,"  says Monaco.

Results also show that when positive emotions such as curiosity are triggered and familiarity with the novel foods increases, consumers´ acceptance grows. "Even if regulatory authorities cannot influence emotions and social norms directly through legislation, they can exert an indirect influence by creating the necessary conditions that contribute to the formation of such norms," the researchers conclude.

Source:Consumers’ perception of novel foods and the impact of heuristics and biases: A systematic review”, Alessandro Monaco, Johannes Kotz, Mirna Al Masri, Anila Allmeta, Kai P. Purnhagen, Laura M. König.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2024.107285

Alessandro Monaco

Alessandro Monaco

University of Bayreuth 

Phone: +49 (0) 9221 / 407-1027
E-Mail: alessandro.monaco@uni-bayreuth.de

Portraitbild von Anja Maria Meister

Anja-Maria Meister

PR Spokesperson University of Bayreuth

Phone: +49 (0) 921  55 - 5300
E-mail: anja.meister@uni-bayreuth.de