Department of Management

Psychological aspects of food safety risk perception

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference abstract for conferenceResearch

  • Joachim Scholderer, Denmark
Most consumers are not microbiologists and spend little time worrying about food safety. Evolution and civilisation have provided us with abilities to avoid the more serious risks, and in practice we tend to use these abilities quite well. However, there are certain conditions under which problematic food safety behaviours are likely to occur. The presentation will begin with an overview of the relevant psychological mechanisms that regulate approach and avoidance behaviour with respect to potentially hazardous foods. Learned representations of familiarity and reward value act as safety signals, motivating approach. Novelty, and the detection of certain olfactory and visual cues associated with spoilage or contamination, act as orientation or threat signals and motivate closer inspection or avoidance. Anticipatory affects are an inherent part of these behaviour regulation systems: pleasure is tied to approach, surprise to orientation, disgust to avoidance. These mechanisms operate permanently and in an almost automatic manner. Problematic food safety behaviours often result when (a) easily detectable cues for spoilage or contamination do not exist, (b) when the diagnosticity of such cues has not been learned well enough by consumers to automatically trigger avoidance behaviour, (c) anticipatory positive affect is experienced at the same time and so strong that it overrides the effect of avoidance-related cues or (d) the eating situation is associated with strong social norms that would make avoidance behaviour socially inappropriate. The four conditions are illustrated with examples from past and ongoing research. Since many of the involved mechanisms operate almost automatically, interventions that are based on occasional risk communication alone are unlikely to have lasting effects. The presentation will conclude with a discussion of alternative intervention approaches that would, at least in theory, have the potential to counteract the different conditions under which problematic food safety behaviour typically occurs.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year2 May 2014
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2 May 2014
EventIAFP Symposium on Food Safety - Budapest, Hungary
Duration: 7 May 20149 May 2014


ConferenceIAFP Symposium on Food Safety

    Research areas

  • Risk, Approach–avoidance

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