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As food safety has become a headline issue, economists have struggled to find practical ways to assess consumer response to future outbreaks. We used experimental psychology to assess how individuals will alter their consumption methods when responding to a food safety incident. We invited 85 undergraduate students to participate in a lunchtime experiment run by a food psychologist. Participants were invited to help themselves to a buffet and told to take a little of several foods, including chicken.
All plates were weighed at the end of the buffet line. A confederate was enlisted to refuse to take chicken: in a control condition, he claimed it was because he was a vegetarian and in a natural condition, he claimed it was due to a local avian influenza (AI) outbreak he heard about on the news that morning. In a terror condition, the confederate refused to take the chicken due to an AI outbreak related to terrorism. In all three cases, the confederate refused to take the chicken and left the room. Students in the natural and terror conditions believed there was a greater chance the chicken was contaminated and rated the chicken as less tasty, less likely to have AI, more harmful, more funny–tasting and less safe than students in the control condition. We also found that the percentage of chicken eaten decreased significantly in the natural and terror groups. We conclude that the AI threat did not eliminate consumption, but did widely reduce chicken intake, and believe this data provides the opportunity for further experimental psychology research on food safety threats.
Just, David R. , Calum G. Turvey, and Brian Wansink (2009). Biosecurity Terrorism, Food Safety, and Food Consumption Behavior: Using Experimental Psychology to Analyze Economic Behavior. Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 34(1), 91–108.