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How linguistic communication shapes the perception of a plant-based diet

Animal agriculture is a leading contributor to climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, and water pollution. There is also growing evidence linking the consumption of animal products to some of the most prevalent chronic diseases including atherosclerosis, cancer, and diabetes. Therefore, it is imperative to consider alternative food sources (i.e., plant-based products) which demand fewer resources, are less ecologically destructive, and can improve human health conditions. The goal of the current project is to examine how linguistic communication determines the public perception of a plant-based diet by developing communication strategies that focus on ethical, environmental, social, or health factors of plant-based food. This project represents an important new direction of Dr. Zhao’s work that aims to bridge cognitive science and environmental sustainability. In the experiment, participants are randomly assigned to separate conditions, each of which presents a paragraph describing the ethical, environmental, social, health, holistic (all information combined), or neutral aspects of a plant-based diet. After reading the paragraph, participants will be asked to indicate their preferences and perceptions of a list of animal and plant-based foods, as well as their future dining intentions. This project can provide novel insights on how linguistic communication shapes people’s perceptions of plant-based foods. At a practical level, the study can offer useful insights on how best to communicate to the public about a plant-based diet. The findings from this project can help inform animal advocacy groups and environmental organizations in terms of conducting their educational and outreach campaigns in the public. In turn, the enhancement of these communication efforts could, in the long run, help alleviate the severity of climate change and environmental devastation, and also reduce the prevalence of chronic health diseases.


  • Language, Sustainability and Transnationalism
  • The Communicating Mind and Body

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