Investigating social and educational interventions to reduce the disgust response to ingestion of insects and cultured meat

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Experimental Psychology


Food-related emotions are understudied in psychology, especially the emotion of disgust which underpins food rejection. This project aims to introduce novel measures of food-related disgust and use them to investigate the effectiveness of social and educational interventions to increase consumption of novel insect-containing food and cultured meat. The context for this is the need to reduce demand for 'conventional meat' due to its contribution to climate change.
The studies included in this project will be based on a research design with certain common aspects. First, there will be conditions in which participants are invited to taste and consume food they believe contains insects or cultured meat.

Second, the disgust response will be measured in anticipation of, and during, food consumption. These measures will include liking and desire to eat judgements, amount of food consumed and implicit measures such as tactile sensitivity. Previous research has almost exclusively measured self-reported attitudes or acceptance of food which do not always reflect actual behaviour.

Third, studies will investigate the effectiveness of both educational and social interventions in overcoming disgust. Arguably, as disgust is a 'basic emotion' which leads to deep-rooted, visceral responses, top-down approaches based on rationality can be expected to have limited impact. Social interventions that appeal on an innate, deep-rooted level may, however, be more effective.

Unilever are developing insect-containing food products and have conducted preliminary research into this topic. They have extended an invitation for a 3-6 month placement within their R&D centre in the Netherlands under the supervision of Professor Lisbeth Zandstra. Zandstra and her colleagues have recently used EEG to investigate neurophysiological responses during cooking of insect-containing dishes. As well as collaboration on specific methods this placement will offer the opportunity to gain an understanding of the objectives, impact and constraints of research conducted in a commercial setting.

An academic collaboration has been arranged with the LEAP project at the University of Oxford. There is an opportunity to use their simulated online supermarket to test the effect of messages (interventions) on decision making in a close to real-life context, rather than lab setting.

Food and disgust research interests and excites people. At least one public engagement event a year is planned. For example, Cargo Cantina, a local Bristol restaurant, are enthusiastic to work on public engagement and potentially extend the collaboration to use their facilities to implement studies.

Based on the research design and these collaborations the study plan is:
Studies 1&2 (months 0-8). Explore the usefulness of the five novel implicit measures of disgust (listed previously).
Studies 3&4 (months 8-17). Study 3 will make use of LEAP's online supermarket to test the effect of educational labels on food purchasing choices.
Study 5 (months 17-20/23). Unilever placement. Here the aim will be to develop and implement interventions based on Unilever's knowledge and current understanding of consumer attitudes and behaviour towards meat alternatives replacing conventional products.
Study 6 (months 20/23-31). Based on the findings accumulated over the research degree this study will assess the longevity of the disgust reduction resulting from interventions by including follow-up assessments.
Write-up (months 31-36).

Academic impact will lie in insight for emotion researchers to understand food-related emotions, specifically disgust, and how to reliably measure it. Societal impact will come from the creation of evidence-based interventions to increase acceptance of novel, more sustainable protein sources.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2220788 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2022 Maya Rose Gumussoy