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Title: The Meat of the Matter: Behavioral Science Nudges for a More Sustainable Diet
Authors: Shang, Cecilia
Advisors: Weber, Elke U
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Certificate Program: Environmental Studies Program
Class Year: 2018
Abstract: Current levels of global population growth and meat consumption are putting unprecedented demand on agriculture and natural resources. From a sustainability standpoint, the environmental impacts of excess meat consumption, coupled with the need to feed a rapidly growing global population on a finite planet make it necessary to shift dietary choices. This thesis explores how aspects of behavioral science can be leveraged to facilitate more sustainable diets by reducing excess meat consumption, with a specific focus on conventionally produced beef in developed countries such as the US. To contribute to the field, I conducted two experiments (one in a restaurant and one in a University dining hall) to examine the impact of choice architecture nudges on food choice. Specifically, I hypothesized that a combination of behavioral science-informed nudges in the restaurant and dining hall setting using (i) defaults, (ii) traffic light labeling, and (iii) social norm messaging would decrease choosing of red meat dishes and increase choosing of plant-based dishes compared to baseline consumption. Results and data analysis show that in both settings the choice architecture interventions have a significant impact on increasing choosing of the default, labeled plant-based dishes, as hypothesized. In the University dining hall, the interventions reduce the probability of choosing the beef dish as hypothesized. However, in the restaurant setting, there was a price-dependent effect on beef dishes that increased consumption at low prices but decreased consumption at higher prices. Manipulation checks show that in both experiments, the labeling and social norm messages were not perceived by most diners. Taken together, the results of the two experiments provide evidence that behavioral science nudges can impact food choice to facilitate a shift toward a more sustainable diet. The findings also imply that it matters how choice architecture interventions are implemented and that defaults may be one particularly easy and/or effective intervention to reduce meat consumption in a range of settings. I discuss potential implications and opportunities for policy-makers and practitioners to nudge food choices in the real world using defaults, traffic-light labeling, and social norms. The thesis concludes by addressing possible concerns and critiques and briefly provides perspectives from beef producers.
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, 1929-2020

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