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Anticipated food scarcity and food preferences

Anticipated food scarcity and food preferences

Title: Anticipated food scarcity and food preferences
Author: Folwarczny, Michał   orcid.org/0000-0002-1686-4933
Advisor: Valdimar Sigurdsson
Date: 2021-12-15
Language: English
University/Institute: Háskólinn í Reykjavík
Reykjavik University
School: Samfélagssvið (HR)
School of Social Sciences (RU)
Department: Viðskiptadeild (HR)
Department of Business Administration (RU)
ISBN: 9789935962072 (eISBN)
Subject: Business Administration; Food scarcity; Food insecurity; Food preferences; Food choices; Consumer behavior; Viðskiptafræði; Doktorsritgerðir; Matvælaskortur; Fæðuöryggi; Neysluvenjur; Mataræði; Neytendahegðun
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11815/2849

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In the recent decade, marketing literature has acknowledged the advantages of applying an evolutionary lens to understand consumer behavior in different domains. Food choice context is one such domain, having implications for societal well-being, especially for public health and addressing environmental issues. In this thesis, I investigate how mechanisms that have emerged as adaptations to food scarcity—frequent throughout human history—affect modern consumers’ food preferences, potentially leading to maladaptive outcomes. In Paper I, we highlight that selection pressures adjusted humans to forage in ancestral, hostile environments when they were wandering between periods of food scarcity and food sufficiency. Consequently, consumers often fail to choose foods appropriate to their current needs in contemporary retail contexts. Rather than attempting to override these hardwired and evolutionarily outdated food preferences, we recommend policymakers leverage them in such a way that facilitates healthier food choices. A series of studies reported in Paper II show that exposing people to climate change-induced food scarcity distant in time and space shifts their current food preferences. Specifically, people exposed to such video content exhibit a stronger preference toward energy-dense (vs. low-calorie) foods than their peers exposed to a control video. In Paper III, we aimed to account for potential confounds stemming from the control video used in studies reported in Paper II. Additionally, we strived to conceptually replicate these earlier findings by exposing participants to subtle cues to food scarcity—a winter forest walk. Although not all studies yielded significant results at conventional levels, this empirical package—when taken together—corroborated the earlier findings. Despite that studies described in Papers II–III provided a shred of empirical evidence showing a potency of food scarcity cues in increasing preferences toward energy-dense (vs. low-calorie) products, it was still unclear what drove such a shift in food liking. Thus, in Paper IV, we have developed and psychometrically validated the Anticipated Food Scarcity Scale (AFSS), measuring the degree to which people perceive food resources as becoming less available in the future. Aside from being a candidate mechanism partially explaining findings reported in Papers II–III, anticipated food scarcity (AFS) is also related to some aspects of prosociality. Studies presented in this thesis suggest that when environmental cues to food scarcity are present, people show a stronger preference toward energy-dense (vs. low-calorie) foods than their peers unexposed to such cues. Policymakers should consider these results when designing climate change and other similar campaigns, as such communication often depicts food scarcity. Additional research may explore the possibility that exposure to food scarcity cues affects food choices. Considering that we found AFS correlated with certain prosocial attitudes, it is a new psychological construct that warrants future investigation through multidisciplinary research.

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