Targeting The Conscious Mind To Reduce Demand For Meat
The adverse relationship between meat consumption and public health is multifaceted: red and processed meat increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer; meat production contributes to the increased pollution of air and drinking water; microbial resistance and vector-borne disease pose additional threats. Encouraging people to reduce their meat intake poses its own challenges, but a growing body of research is providing insight into the most effective ways of doing so.
In this paper, a group of researchers reviewed contemporary literature on interventions targeted at “conscious determinants” of behavior; in other words, the conscious system of learning and memory used to explain and predict our behavior. The researchers wanted to identify which combinations of these interventions would most successfully reduce the actual or intended purchase and consumption of meat. The review included over 25,000 observations of individuals or individual meat purchases and looked at self-monitoring and various educational interventions connecting meat consumption to issues including individual health, animal welfare, and the environment.
A few studies showed evidence of affecting consumer attitudes and behavior, at least directly post-intervention. In two self-monitoring intervention studies, participants received daily texts encouraging them to monitor their intake of red and processed meat and to not exceed recommendations for daily intake. This intervention showed some effect on attitudes towards these types of meat, and a reduction in meat consumption during the study.
In other interventions, providing participants with written information or informational videos about the effects of meat consumption on individual health reduced intentions to consume meat directly after the information was shared and in one study, this effect was sustained for a week post-intervention. Providing written information about animal welfare showed a significant reduction in intended meat consumption, to a higher degree than similar interventions using messages about individual health or environmental implications. Providing information about two or more consequences of consuming meat did not appear to increase effectiveness.
Evidence from this emerging field suggests targeting “conscious determinants” could be effective in influencing consumer behavior. This research mainly showed effects on intentions towards purchasing and consuming meat; further research is needed to assess what impact these interventions have on actual buying behavior. Providing education showed an effect on intentions but not in behavior. Meanwhile, self-monitoring showed some potential in reducing actual meat consumption. If delivered at scale along with other interventions, this could potentially help contribute to a population-wide reduction in the demand for meat. However, targeting unconscious determinants of behavior might help bridge the intention-behavior gap and provide a more significant effect.