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Date Permissions Signed


Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type

Masters Thesis

Department or Program Affiliation

Environmental Studies

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Neff, Mark W.

Second Advisor

Cunningham, Mick

Third Advisor

Armstrong Soule, Catherine A.

Fourth Advisor

Myers, Gene (O. Gene)


Prior research has investigated the effectiveness of social normative and environmental impact messages to encourage pro-environmental behaviors. One goal of this thesis was to investigate how these messaging strategies can be used to influence the sustainable behavior of making a plant-based food choice. Recent studies have also suggested that both social and self-identity resulting from various cultures, backgrounds, social roles and individual experiences have a strong influence on food choice. Study 1 presented in this thesis produced quantitative results from a field experiment on a university campus that investigated the influence of three different messaging techniques on plant-based food choice. Participants also completed a survey that collected information regarding age, gender, dietary habits, and environmental identity. The effects of the social normative messages and the environmental impact message were compared to each other as well as to the control message. These results showed no significant difference in plant-based food choice across treatment groups (N=401), however there was an increase in plant-based food choice for those who viewed the environmental impact message, and both social normative messages. Descriptive statistics from a survey (N=214) suggest that both environmental identity and gender influence plant-based food choice.

Study 2 of this thesis documented different aspects of social and self-identity that influence food choice in freshman undergraduate students through focus group interviews. These conversations revealed the complexity of food choice for individuals, their perceived lack of self-efficacy for solving environmental challenges through their food choice, and a negative response to either receiving or providing unsolicited information meant to guide food choices. The results from these complimentary studies suggest that messaging strategies alone may not be effective for altering students’ discrete food choice due to the link between food choice and identity.




social normative message, environmental impact message, food choice, field-experiment, plant-based food, vegetarian, focus groups, social identity, self-identity


Western Washington University

OCLC Number


Subject – LCSH

Vegetarianism--Environmental aspects; Veganism--Environmental aspects; Food habits--Environmental aspects; Food--Marketing; Influence (Psychology); Identity (Psychology); Group identity; Environmental sociology




masters theses




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