To Eat or Not to Eat Meat: The role of social influence, identity and social network on individual’s dietary choice

This project will investigate the role of social interactions, identity and network on people’s meat-eating behaviour. There is a wide consensus now that excessive meat consumption is linked to increased health risks and environmental damage. More recently, we observe an increasing trend of people who decide to reduce meat consumption or stop eating meat altogether. The trend is strong especially among young people, on whom social media may have a big influence. The project will investigate how social influence and social network affect people’s decision to eat or not eat meat. Social influence can take place both via the real-life network such as family or work network, as well as via the virtual social media network.

This studentship is in partnership with the Vegetarian Society (VegSoc), who are very interested in learning what existing data tell us about people’s motivations to become vegetarians or vegans in recent years. Researchers will work closely with VegSoc to identify the key issues that affect people’s decision to eat and not eat meat, and to inform the design of future questionnaires.

The project consists of two main components. First, it will investigate existing data to address empirical research questions on people’s meat-eating behaviour. Second, it will develop an agent-based simulation model to study the impact of social influence and social network on the adoption of the vegetarian or vegan diet. Based on empirical findings from the first component, the agent-based model will be used to investigate how meat-eating behaviours can spread among different people groups through different mechanisms such as peer pressure. The successful candidate will use the model to explain some observed social phenomenon, such as the clustering and polarisation of meat-eating behaviour in the population, and deepen our understanding of the social dynamics in the spread of vegetarian diet among people.

Project reference: LE52

Application deadline: 9th April