Price is important, and so is access to great recipes. Role models and inspiration also play key roles, but what about seafood and emotions? Can emotions influence the consumption of seafood among young people in Norway?

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Emotions are reactions that affect both bodily expression and mood. How positive or negative can the experience of an emotion be? How intense does it feel and how activated and engaged can one become – for example when it comes to choosing which food to eat?

“It is precisely this change in the experience of an emotion we are interested in measuring: how something affects our emotional state, i.e. emotional reactions. We use a model to study the relationship between three possible alternative explanatory factors for seafood choices made by young adults, namely language, smell and context. We then assess how these emotional factors are linked to decision-making,” explains Nofima market scientist Kamilla Bergsnev.

Long-term effects

Together with her colleagues Florent Govaerts and Themis Altintzoglou, she has been commissioned by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries to prepare the report ‘Emotions and seafood – what emotional reactions do young adults have to seafood?’ 


The backdrop for the report is the fact that children and young adults in Norway eat significantly less seafood than what is desirable from a public health perspective. 

“The authorities have invested a lot of energy and resources in preventing a decline in fish consumption. They have identified young adults as one of the key groups to reverse this trend. Young people eat the least seafood and fish, while also being the consumer group that is more receptive to adopting new eating habits,” says Kamilla Bergsnev. 

The three Nofima scientists point out in the report that engaging young adults will have long-term effects on seafood consumption because their eating habits can be passed on to future generations.

The way we talk about fish

Previous research at Nofima has shown that price and sensory characteristics such as smell, taste and texture are crucial when it comes to food choices, including seafood. It is also known from previous research that availability, price and knowledge about cooking affect seafood consumption among young adults in Norway. 

Nofima’s scientists have pointed out in a previous report that alternative explanatory factors for the low fish consumption among young adults should be investigated. 

“Understanding why we choose the food we do is a big and complex topic,” says Bergsnev. 

Emotions can influence our choices unconsciously, through processes such as the anchoring effect – past experiences and emotions that influence current decisions, and something called the affect heuristic – mental shortcuts based on emotions that influence how we assess information and make decisions. 

According to the scientists, emotions play a key role in understanding decision-making, and our motivation is generally to make choices that ‘feel’ right. 

“Previous research has shown that positive emotions towards food products are important factors in actually choosing these products. It is therefore interesting to measure emotions towards various seafood words since there is no previous research on this in Norway. An alternative explanatory factor related to emotions is the way we talk about fish and how it affects preferences,” says Bergsnev.

In the project in question, the focus has been on less explored factors such as emotions, language and context, in order to investigate how these can affect seafood consumption. Using the latest technologies and methods in consumer research, the aim of the study was to:

  • Broaden our understanding of what influences seafood preferences
  • Investigate what emotional reactions young adults have towards seafood words
  • Investigate whether different contexts affect the emotional experience of seafood smells


In the first part of the experiment, the scientists wanted to investigate what type of emotional responses young adults have to words that are seafood related. 

“The reason for this is that words like fish can often be used in negative contexts or negative expressions in everyday language. For example, ‘it smells fishy’ is used in contexts where one says something smells bad or perhaps that something is suspicious,” says Kamilla Bergsnev. 

However, results show that young adults have a positive emotional response to most seafood words that relate to known Norwegian seafood, especially salmon, trout, cod and fish.

In the second part of the experiment, the research team investigated how the smell of fresh cod and salmon affected emotional responses and whether the emotional response to the words cod and salmon changed after the participants smelled the products. 

“We found no significant correlation between the words and the emotional experience of seafood smell.”

In the third part of the experiment, VR (virtual reality) was used to test whether different contexts affected the emotional response of the smell experience. Through the use of VR headsets, the research subjects were taken on various everyday events where seafood is involved.

“We chose four different contexts where the use of seafood would be natural or common. A supermarket because buying seafood often takes place in stores, an apartment with a kitchen to illustrate a home kitchen, a restaurant that is a place where people often eat seafood, and a boat out at sea that can have a natural association with cod,” explains the scientist. 

A general positive attitude

The results of the study show a general positive attitude towards the words fish, seafood and shellfish, which provides a positive starting point for the Norwegian seafood industry. However, the results also showed that there were negative emotional responses to words like herring and oysters, and somewhat more varied in relation to the words coley, tuna and mackerel. 

“Salmon and cod are the most well-known fish species that are eaten here in Norway, which is why young adults are most familiar with these species. On the other hand, people may be more sceptical of things they have little knowledge about. For example, herring and oysters are probably not that common on the menus of young adults,” says Kamilla Bergsnev.

She believes that the results of the report can give an indication to seafood producers and other actors that it may be appropriate to increase the diversity of seafood in order to create positive experiences of different products, which may lead to more people accepting new products. It may also be appropriate to consider the context in which seafood is presented – such as stores, restaurants and schools. 

Things can change drastically

The scientists also point out that exposure and getting used to new or unfamiliar food can change habits.

“Not that long ago, it was unthinkable for many people in the country to eat raw fish, but after a few years of exposure and getting used to the idea, sushi has become more and more popular. There are now many sushi restaurants in Norway, and sushi is sold at kiosks, shops and airports. This is an example of food preferences changing quite drastically, and that change is possible.

Understanding surroundings, memories and experiences from a perspective that places emotions in focus can help us formulate strategies to increase positive associations with healthy and good food products such as seafood,” says Bergsnev.

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