Emotional and deliberative reactions to a public crisis: Mad Cow disease in France

Psychol Sci. 2005 Mar;16(3):247-54. doi: 10.1111/j.0956-7976.2005.00811.x.


Although most theories of choice are cognitive, recent research has emphasized the role of emotions. We used a novel context--the Mad Cow crisis in France--to investigate how emotions alter choice even when consequences are held constant. A field study showed that individuals reduced beef consumption in months after many newspaper articles featured the emotional label "Mad Cow," but beef consumption was unaffected after articles featured scientific labels for the same disease. The reverse pattern held for the disease-related actions of a government bureaucracy. A lab study showed that the Mad Cow label induces people to make choices based solely on emotional reactions, whereas scientific labels induce people to consider their own probability judgments. Although the Mad Cow label produces less rational behavior than scientific labels, it is two to four times more common in the environment.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Cues
  • Culture
  • Emotions*
  • Encephalopathy, Bovine Spongiform / psychology*
  • Encephalopathy, Bovine Spongiform / transmission
  • England
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Food Contamination / prevention & control
  • Food Labeling
  • Food Microbiology*
  • France
  • Government Publications as Topic
  • Humans
  • Meat
  • Newspapers as Topic
  • Probability
  • Problem Solving*
  • Public Opinion
  • Risk-Taking
  • Terminology as Topic
  • Thinking*