University of Twente Student Theses


"To meat or not to meat" : exploring the effects of social norm messages on the intention to lower meat consumption

Bruynzeel, A.B. (2019) "To meat or not to meat" : exploring the effects of social norm messages on the intention to lower meat consumption.

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Abstract:Background and purpose - Since our meat eating habits have a detrimental negative impact on our environment and animal welfare, a change in our dietary habits is needed. Moreover, the production of meat has a negative impact on the environment in terms of biodiversity, greenhouse gas emission, water supply, and animal welfare. Although most individuals do believe that the environment should be protected, and animal welfare is of high value, behavior is contradictory. Furthermore, the average meat intake within the Netherlands is approximately 6 days a week. Therefore, this study will focus on finding effective ways to lower meat consumption, through social norm messages. According to the Focus Theory of Normative Conduct, two types of norms can be distinguished: descriptive norms, and injunctive norms. Although both social norms are extensively explored within the field of health and other fields regarding social desired behavior, it is not widely researched in the field of meat consumption. Therefore, this study contributes by investigating the (possible) effects of social norm messages, on the intention to consume less meat through an online experiment. Methods - This study used a 2 (descriptive norm present vs not present) x 2 (injunctive norm present vs not present) x 2 (positively vs negatively framed) in between-subject design, where N=281 individuals were subjected to one out of 8 unique conditions. Every condition contained either an injunctive norm, a descriptive norm, a combination of both norms, or no norms (control condition), and all conditions were either negatively or positively framed. Besides the norms, all conditions contained information about the negative effects of meat consumption on the environment and animal welfare, to stress the importance of a lower meat consumption. The study was conducted among adults of 18 years and older, who consumed meat at least once a week. Results - Although no main effects were found, there were significant interaction effects found. The outcomes implied that descriptive norms have a negative influence on behavioral intention and behavior choice, when combined with an injunctive norm. Moreover, this negative effect only occured when both norms were used in a negatively framed message, as opposed to the positive frame. When combining descriptive and injunctive norms in a negative frame, the intention to lower meat intake significantly lowers, and individuals are 10 times less likely to choose for a meatless option as opposed to a meat option. Additionally, feelings of moral obligation were stronger, among participants who consumed high amounts of meat. Moreover, participants who ate meat 5 to 7 days a week (high meat intake), felt more obliged to lower their meat consumption than participants with a moderate (i.e. 3 to 4 day a week) or low (1 to 2 days a week) meat intake. On the contrary, attitude towards animal welfare decreased, when meat intake increased. Conslusion - Presumably, this difference in outcome can be explained by Cognitive Dissonance Theory, which explains that feelings of discomfort arise, when behavior and beliefs are discrepant. Therefore, participants who have higher contrast between their beliefs (e.g. it is best to eat less meat), and their behavior (e.g. eating a lot of meat), have stronger feelings of guilt because of the high 3 discrepancy, and thus feel more obliged to consume less meat, and more positive towards eating less meat. Another explanation for the negative effect of the combined social norms in a negative frame, could be assigned to guilt appeal. Moreover, this message in particular could have activated high feelings of guilt because of its (quite extreme) negative content. Regarding the interaction effects found in this study, caution is highly advised when using a combination of both injunctive and descriptive norms within a negative frame, since a negative effect on behavior can occur.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:05 communication studies, 70 social sciences in general, 71 sociology
Programme:Communication Studies MSc (60713)
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