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Consumers are driven by feelings, bias, and unreliable information

How many times have you been drawn to a product because it contained no artificial ingredients, was all organic, or chemical free?

As consumers, we aren’t going to spend money on a product or service unless we trust that it will meet our expectations. A whole host of biases, perceptions, unreliable information and feelings factor into how a consumer assesses the potential risks or benefits of a new technology or product.

Even without fully understanding what’s in a product or what extensive scientific testing was done to ensure product safety, consumers can make snap, seemingly irrational judgments.

But now, a series of new studies show that consumers are predictable and their actions are easy to understand based on heuristics.

Heuristics are rules or methods that help us make quick and easy decisions based on previous experiences, common sense, feelings and instincts.

By studying heuristics, researchers can gain insight into what drives decision making and consumer behavior as well as work to change bad habits.

A symposium at the 2018 Society for Risk Analysis Annual Meeting this week included several presentations on how heuristics inform risk assessment in consumers.

One of the studies presented examined how misinformation about toxicological risks in products like cleaning solutions has created controversy and mistrust of chemicals and additives.

Today, the substances in cleaning solutions, detergents, soaps, and additives are thoroughly tested for safety, but Angela Bearth from ETH Zurich found that most consumers know very little about these safety testing processes.

Instead, consumers look to unreliable resources to judge a product, chemical or food additive.

Another study, also conducted by researchers from ETH Zurich, focused on food technologies and how different advancements in food from additives to artificial meat can elicit strong feelings of disgust and apprehension in consumers.

The third study presented in the symposium was conducted by researchers from Leeds University and examined how different types of judgment are used to assess food products and make eating choices.

The researchers created an online survey meant to determine how people judge their food based on nutrition concerns, cravings, and ethics to name a few. Consumers are more likely to make decisions based on feelings of disgust or cravings even if the food itself lacks nutritional value.

The studies show how heuristics can be used to predict consumer trust and biases in risk assessment for new products, foods, and technologies.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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