Effective strategies for overcoming the naturalistic heuristic: Experimental evidence on consumer acceptance of “clean” meat
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Description: The naturalistic heuristic of “what is natural is good” poses a serious barrier to consumer adoption of genetically modified foods, childhood vaccinations, and related technologies. While existing evidence suggests that pro-acceptance messaging appeals based on debunking this heuristic are ineffective at increasing consumer acceptance, there is little evidence on whether this ineffectiveness extends to new products for which consumers have not yet formed crystallized opinions. In this study, we examine three messaging strategies — direct debunking, embracing unnaturalness, and descriptive norms — for overcoming consumer resistance in the context of a new food technology: “clean meat” — also known as “cultured” or “in vitro” meat. We compare the effects of these three pro-clean meat appeals against “anti-clean meat social information” from anonymous consumers. We find persistent negative effects of anti-clean meat social information over 10 weeks. In contrast, improvements in consumer acceptance following the direct debunking and descriptive norms appeals were short-lived. The only appeal to successfully offset the undermining effects of anti-clean meat social information over 10 weeks was the embrace unnaturalness appeal, suggesting that advocates wishing to enhance consumer acceptance of new food technologies should focus on how these technologies are similar to products that also seem “unnatural” but which are already widely adopted by consumers.