In understanding decreases in demand after exposure to media-induced food scares, aggregate data are almost exclusively presented without taking into consideration potential confounding variables. However, a better approach may be to use an experimental design coupled with targeting homogeneous willingness-to-pay (WTP) subgroups based on similarities in behavioral, psychological, and demographic characteristics of those who are most vulnerable to food scare information. This is accomplished through experimental economics and an analysis strategy called a classification and regression tree (CART). A stigma framework—which guides conceptual understanding of effects of media-induced food scares—suggests controlling contextual variables to better approximate ceteris paribus. To this end, we conducted an experiment that exposed people to information about mad cow disease and then asked them to bid their willingness-to-pay for an actual hamburger. The CART found distinct homogeneous WTP subgroups of individuals that could be used by government and industry professionals to create interventions to reduce potential consumer concern and producer losses.


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