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Psychological Determinants of Reactions to Food Risk Messages


*Faculty of Behavioural Sciences, Psychology & Communication of Health & Risk, University of Twente, P.O. Box 217, 7500 AE Enschede, The Netherlands; tel: +31 53 489 3327/3287; fax: +31 53 489 4259;


In recent years, European countries have witnessed a number of food crises such as dioxin-contaminated chicken, foot-and-mouth disease, and BSE. In such cases, food might be contaminated by microorganisms or chemicals that could pose a risk to the consumer. These cases attract media attention and might instigate the consumer to reduce the consumption of the allegedly contaminated products. Although a decline in consumption of (potentially) contaminated products has been observed, it is not yet clear what determines the individual's reaction to food risk messages. To study the psychological determinants of the reaction to food risk messages, a survey was conducted in the Netherlands (n= 280). Subjects had to imagine two situations involving chicken contamination and report how they would react behaviorally if this situation occurred. Risk perception, affective response, perceived susceptibility to foodborne disease, self-efficacy, outcome expectation, trust, experience with foodborne disease, and need for information were also assessed. It was found that 60% of the subjects would allegedly avoid the risks by not consuming chicken for a while and approximately 60% would seek additional information. Risk avoidance was significantly related to information seeking and the psychological determinants, especially risk perception, affective response, need for information, perceived susceptibility to foodborne disease, and trust. Seeking information was also significantly related to risk perception, affective response, need for information, susceptibility to foodborne disease, and trust, but to a lesser degree. A model describing the relationships between the variables was tested using AMOS. Results are presented and implications are discussed.