TP4: The role of moralization

in the interpretation and use of nutritional evidence

Prof. Dr. Jutta Roosen (Marketing and Consumer Research, TUM): Project Manager

This project examines the evidence practices of consumers in the field of nutrition. Nutrition is an evolutionary and culturally engrained practice that has only recently – approximately the last  hundred years – been strengthened, confronted or changed by findings from the nutritional sciences. The results of the first research phase show that evidence – understood as meaningful and  socially accepted knowledge and guiding consumer action – is not only based on scientific knowledge, but is influenced by heuristics and values. This is especially the case when scientific  knowledge is fragile and in conflict with intuitive judgments of right or wrong and good or bad. We pursue this tension further in Phase 2, widening the research focus from the area of food safety  to the field of nutrition as a whole. We do so in acknowledgement of the result that the standardization and institutionalization of the risk analysis framework in the regulation of food safety has  advanced substantially and left the consumer with a rather passive role.

The hypothesis for the second phase is that when engaging with evidence consumers resort to their own stabilization mechanisms that are influenced by moral judgements, especially when  scientific evidence is perceived as fragile and tentative. As theoretical basis the project uses the Moral Foundation Theory. In doing so, the project exemplifies the role of moralizations in (1) the interpretation, acceptance and rejection of scientific knowledge, (2) the assessment and use of information sources and (3) (moral) trade-offs regarding the relevance of knowledge about health and environmental consequences. Methodically, the project adopts a quantitative approach. After first conducting preparatory focus groups, the relationship between subjective nutrition  knowledgeand beliefs with moral values is examined via an intercultural comparison (Germany / China). Then, the influence of scientific knowledge on subjective beliefs is studied in an  experimental setting.

The project studies the stabilizing role of (e)valuations that consumers use to respond to the provisional nature of evidence in the nutritional sciences. Hence, it contributes to the understanding of different evidence cultures and the emergence of evidence criticism by analyzing the reaction of consumers and their subjective knowledge when confronted with scientific evidence that opposes current wisdom.