The irrational consumer

You probably won’t be surprised to learn a lot of decision-making is based on feelings rather than facts

Perceptions are crucial to people’s acceptance of a particular technology and therefore their willingness to become a consumer.

While some consumer behaviours may seem irrational, their actions are actually quite predictable based on what’s known about how people solve problems.

Prior to the introduction of scientific testing for toxicological risks, individuals relied on their senses to detect risks, a practice coined as ‘intuitive toxicology.’

Angela Bearth, a PhD researcher at the Swiss university ETH Zurich, relates consumers’ knowledge about toxicological principles to their risk perceptions and preferences for a variety of consumer products (e.g. cleaning products, medicines, foods).

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The study confirms that consumers have very limited knowledge regarding the processes undertaken to ensure the safety of consumer products. An area of particular concern was misconceptions held regarding man-made versus natural chemicals.

Food technologies such as gene technology or meat cultured from stem cells can be perceived as unnatural and thus evoke feelings of disgust which block acceptance of the product.

Michael Siegrist, also of ETH Zurich, surveyed consumers and found “the impact of disgust on risk perception and acceptance of novel food technologies,” suggests that willingness to eat was negatively associated with disgust responses.

People generally liked and chose to eat foods with high ratings on the positive attributes even if they believed they were not very nutritious, whereas they avoided foods with negative connotations even if they were deemed nutritious and safe to eat.

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