How important is “word of mouth” communication when it comes to making ethical consumer decisions? Researchers have developed a mathematical model that simulates social interactions and predicts how personal opinions are changed as a result – particularly when it comes to food choices.
By Matteo Agresta
Every individual is a complex entity and, in turn, society is the result of countless complex interactions. Nowadays, almost all of these individuals are connected via the internet, and can be thought of as billions of “neurons” in the global “brain”. In a world where facts often seem to be secondary to personal beliefs, one might wonder: how do these complex interactions affect the opinions and values of the individuals involved?
A recent paper, published in the International Journal of Food Engineering, now presents the first results of a large-scale computer simulation devoted to modelling individual behaviour inside a medium sized city of 600,000 inhabitants. Therein, humans are represented as intelligent individual entities characterized by different attributes such as age, sex, level of education and income. The particular attributes used were derived from different open data sources made available by the Municipality of Genova, Italy.
With their newly developed model, the researchers from the University of Genova want to find out how social networks correlate with human activities, and how social interactions involving “word of mouth” information sharing can change individual opinions. In that regard, they present a preliminary case study that simulates the propagation dynamics of ethical values based on social interactions.
More precisely, their model predicts individual food choices based on three parameters: accessibility of ethical shops, price difference relative to standard products, and the position of a person within the social network. Regarding the final point, the authors argue that when a consumer is a central figure in the community and has frequent social interactions, they will want to maintain a good public image and make rather more ethical (or “green”) food choices.
Despite the complexity of these scenarios and uncertainties due to the “human factor”, the authors believe that further fine-tuning of their model could lead to its application in marketing science, helping to predict how a new “green” food product would diffuse in a real urban context.
Read the original article here: