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The importance of selecting the right messenger: A framed field experiment on recycled water products

Whiting, Alix, Kecinski, Maik, Li, Tongzhe, r, Kent D. Messer, Parker, Julia
Ecological economics 2019 v.161 pp. 1-8
consumer attitudes, crops, field experimentation, freshwater, government agencies, irrigated farming, irrigation, irrigation water, nonprofit corporations, recycled water, wastewater, water reuse
This study tests how different messengers—scientists, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and newspapers—influence individual behavior. We conducted framed field experiments to compare the effects of these messengers on consumers' monetary bids on different items produced with recycled and conventional irrigation water. Using recycled wastewater for agricultural irrigation has the potential to conserve substantial amounts of fresh water. Although using recycled water for irrigating of both edible and inedible crops can be safe for human consumption, people may stigmatize these products since the origin of the waste water is still too apparent. Providing consumers with information about recycled water can help ameliorate their negative perceptions, and the effectiveness of such information can depend on the origin, i.e. the messenger. Our results suggest that participants respond least favourably when the message is attributed to a scientist and most favourably when the message is attributed to a newspaper. Further analysis shows that consumer responses to the scientist messenger fall into two general categories: (1) individuals who place zero bids and (2) individuals who place relatively larger bids in response to information from scientists.