••• food research

Consumers not sour on gene-edited grapes

Despite some hesitation about gene-edited foods, taste trumps everything, according to a Washington State University-led survey of U.S. consumers.

For a study published in the journal PLOS One (“Consumer acceptance of new plant-breeding technologies: An application to the use of gene editing in fresh table grapes”), researchers surveyed more than 2,800 people across the U.S. to assess how accepting they might be of gene-edited table grapes, even though none are yet on the market.

After taste, appearance ranked next in importance. Third was a preference for fewer pesticides and fourth a slight preference for traditionally bred grapes over gene-edited ones.

More than half of the survey participants said they knew the difference between the gene-editing technology CRISPR and genetic engineering but they couldn’t state what exactly that difference was.

The researchers segmented the participants into four groups depending on their level of acceptance of gene editing. One group, representing 22% of the participants, who were the most accepting of gene editing, were also the most informed and trusted many sources of information, ranking scientific sources the most highly. The group that most strongly rejected gene editing, about 16% of respondents, knew the least about the technology and had little trust in any sources of information including scientists, government and the media. The other two groups were seen as slightly or moderately rejecting gene editing.

••• consumer psychology

‘Meh’ toward the algorithm

Customers feel good about a company when its representatives make decisions in their favor, such as approving their loan application or granting upgraded member status. When an algorithm reaches the same favorable conclusion? Not so much.

In a Journal of Marketing Research paper (“Thumbs up or down: consumer reactions to decisions by algorithms versus humans”) examining how customers react differently depending on whether a computer or a fellow human decides their fate, Wharton marketing professor Stefano Puntoni and his colleagues found that customers are happiest when they receive a positive decision from a person, less happy when the positive decision is made by an algorithm and equally unhappy with both human and machine when the news is bad.

The researchers believe the results can be explained through attribution theory, a psychology term that refers to how people translate their own experiences and perceptions to make sense of their place in the world. Simply put, it is easier for consumers to internalize a favorable decision outcome that is rendered by a human than by an algorithm, believing that, for example, when a company representative greenlights a request, it’s because of the customer’s exemplary behavior, social status or excellent credit score, etc. But it is easy to externalize an unfavorable decision outcome regardless of whether the decision-maker is human or a bot.