CE03 - Interactions Humains-Environnement

Social Interactions, Social Norm and Sustainable Food Consumption – SocialFood

Submission summary

The current situation of the world is a joint context of climate change and an expansion of the world population. A move toward more sustainable food systems, i.e. systems where food products have pro-environmental or pro-social attributes, would be desirable. Our project aims at finding means to promote consumers’ choices of sustainable food products in social contexts, namely when people eat away from home. The share of total food spending accorded to food away from home is on a growing path reaching already 50% in USA in 2014. When people eat away from home, they often make food decisions in the presence of colleagues, friends or relatives, and therefore, are often subject to social interactions. The first objective of this research project is to determine contexts and situations that encourage consumers to choose more sustainable food products. The second objective is to identify and disentangle mechanisms that lead to the emergence of a group social norm when social interactions are allowed.

The mechanisms that empirically lead to food choices of people at the same table remain, for the moment, in a black box. We propose, with the current project, to open this black box and assess the role of the different mechanisms into play. The framework of our project is based on three dimensions. The first dimension is linked to the type of products we investigate: sustainable food products consist of pro-environmental or pro-social attributes that do not only affect the consumer’s own welfare, but also the welfare of others (environment and society). Therefore, such consumption implies externalities on others that can be modelled as a contribution to a global public good. This is the approach we will follow in the current project. The two other dimensions depend on the social context induced in restaurant. The first characteristic we investigate is the price that people around the table pay, i.e. the “bill sharing rule”, as in restaurant, it is often the case that consumers share the bill whatever they chose to eat. Second, we will investigate the role of information about others, i.e. “social information”, as in restaurant, people necessarily observe what others have in their plate but they do not necessarily observe others’ choices at the time they order their own meal.

We will use behavioral and experimental economics that allow to consider and control the context described above. Our main hypothesis is therefore that individual social preferences may be modified when social interactions are allowed because social interactions may lead to a specific social norm in the group. We ask two research questions: 1. How does the bill sharing rule and social information affect the social norm of the group and individual choices of sustainability? 2. How does social information consumers access affect the social norm of the group and individual choices of sustainability? We will disentangle different determinants of behavior as conformism, Bayesian inference, social desirability or self-justification. We will first treat these two research questions in a stylized manner in laboratory experiment in order to properly disentangle mechanisms in place and guarantee high internal validity. We will then implement the same questions in an experimental restaurant to test for the external validity of the results obtained in the laboratory part. The results that would be provided by the current research project should give insights on how social interactions may modify the social norm and then modify consumers’ habits toward a more sustainable food diet. They would lead to recommendations in terms of public policy on how to use social interactions and information to give incentives to consumers to move toward a more sustainable diet.

Project coordination

Sabrina Teyssier (Laboratoire d'Economie Appliquée de Grenoble)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


GAEL Laboratoire d'Economie Appliquée de Grenoble
Centre de recherche de l'Institut Paul Bocuse / Economie
Georg-August-Universität / Economics
University of Nottingham / Economics
University of Munich / Economics

Help of the ANR 205,697 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: February 2019 - 42 Months

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