Swiss researchers from the Institute for Environmental Decisions conducted a study to evaluate the influence of a 3-minute video on consumer risk perceptions. The 2016 study, “The Dose Makes the Poison”: Informing Consumers About the Scientific Risk Assessment of Food Additives, was published in the academic journal, Risk Analysis. The purpose of the study was “not to motivate consumers to accept or use sweeteners but rather to create informed consumers who based their decisions in choosing food on facts.”
What Did They Want to Find Out?
The study team developed and evaluated two safety assessment videos – one based on an artificial sweetener (aspartame) and one based on a natural sweetener (steviol glycoside).
They assessed several outcomes, including the effect of the video on:
- consumer knowledge;
- positive or negative perceptions of sweeteners;
- risk perception;
- benefit perception; and
- general acceptance.
In addition, the researchers examined whether there were differences in these outcomes depending on whether the low-calorie sweetener in question was either artificial or natural.
What Methods Did Researchers Use?
The researchers conducted an experiment in which 185 participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups: those who watched a video on aspartame, those who watched a video on steviol glycoside, and two control groups. Those participants who landed in the video groups viewed a 3-minute video (both in German) that explained the does-response relationship, risk assessment studies, and the process of determining safe levels.
What Were the Results of the Study?
Overall, the videos were found to be effective. They increased knowledge, positive appraisal, and general acceptance. They reduced perceived risk. No effect was found for perceptions of benefit, but this was not surprising since there was no explicit benefit information presented in the videos. The video effects were found for both types of sweeteners, but the outcomes were greater in the sterol glycoside group, further supporting the “naturalness halo,” which describes the general consumer preference for foods of natural origin.
Prior to watching the video, the participants as a whole tended to have either neutral or positive attitudes toward sweeteners. So it’s unknown what effect the video might have on consumers who begin with negative views toward low-calorie sweeteners.
This study – the evaluation of videos – represented the final step in a research process that used the Mental Models Approach. Mental Models are used to create effective risk communication material by formally exploring how people think about how the world around them works. The approach involves research that includes extensive literature searches, interviews of laypeople and experts, and perception/attitude surveys. The video portion of this research mainly focused on consumer knowledge gaps and misunderstandings.
The primary question investigated – Can a short motion graph video effectively communicate a complex topic? – is a qualified, “yes”. According to the research, to be most effective, risk messages should be carefully crafted with consideration of a range of potential outcomes – including intended and unintended consequences.