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PhD ceremony Jan Koch: Utterly disgusting! How the experience of disgust can both prevent and stimulate societal change

03 November 2021

PhD ceremony: Mr J.A. (Jan) Koch
When: October 21, 2021
Start: 16:15
Supervisor: prof. dr. ir. K. (Koert) van Ittersum
Co-supervisor: dr. J.W. (Jan Willem) Bolderdijk
Where: Academy building RUG
Faculty: Economics and Business

Front page Jan Koch's dissertation

Achieving a sustainable lifestyle is arguably humanity’s biggest challenge to date. While most consumers are aware of this situation, key issues remain unaffected. For instance, as a major driver of global CO2 emissions, the steadily rising consumption of meat fuels the pollution of air, water, and soil, and threatens biodiversity. Why is it so difficult for consumers to abandon current unsustainable behaviors, and adopt more sustainable behaviors instead? This dissertation examines how change may be promoted by introducing disgust as both an underrecognized barrier and key to behavior change. On the one hand, this dissertation shows that disgust can be a reason why consumers reject sustainable behaviors such as consuming sustainable food alternatives. Consumers, for instance, intuitively reject edible insects and lab-meat due to disgust. This disgust, I show, may not be the result of any of the foods’ inherent qualities like taste or texture, but may simply result from the perception that such foods deviate from what consumers have internalized to be the norm. If sustainable food alternatives were perceived to be more normal, consumers would no longer feel disgusted in response to these foods and consequently accept them.

Disgust can, on the other hand, also be used to make people refrain from unsustainable behavior. For instance, graphic warning labels can visually link the consumption of meat to its detrimental consequences and thereby make people reduce it. Importantly, previously voiced concerns that the use of graphic warning labels may stigmatize the target group were not supported by my research.

Last modified:25 January 2023 3.48 p.m.
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