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Consumers’ preferences and willingness to pay for food products: the role of scents and physical presence of goods

  • Full or part time
    Dr D Asioli
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

Consumers’ choices of goods should not vary with changes in the procedure by which they are made or with the description. In this “consequentialist” view, choices should only depend on their likely consequences. However, a large number of experiments have shown that the cognitive processes that guide consumers’ choice appear to violate description-invariance and consequentialism view.

Recent studies in medicine and food show that the way goods are displayed appears to be important when people evaluate them. One of the possible explanations of this different evaluation of the same good, is the so-called Pavlovian Consummatory Mechanism (PCM) well known in behavioural neuroscience, but unfamiliar to many economists. The function of PCM is to deploy behaviour that leads to the consumption of appetitive items when those are physically exposed to them. At the same time olfaction is one of the key senses that is able to affect human behaviour and in turn might affect consumers preferences.

The fragrance industry exists because of the widespread assumption that pleasant fragrances enhance attractiveness and thus social interactions. A large number of studies both in marketing and psychology investigated the effects of scents in decision-making phenomena. However, since economists also investigated the consumers’ decision making, the effect of olfactory cues is also of primary interest for them as well as for food operators because the smell is an important intrinsic attribute for product development as well as for setting up restaurant or supermarket contexts. So far, scents may affect consumer behaviour and preferences which could be of great relevance in consumers’ choices.

This project aims to investigate consumers’ preferences and willingness to pay for different ways of presenting the food products (i.e. using words, pictures, physical presence, etc.) under different scents conditions (i.e. pleasant/unpleasant smell) by using different hypothetical/non hypothetical methods. Finally, individual differences, the role of scents on consumers’ preferences and willingness to pay and the PCM will be investigated.

Funding Notes

Applicants should hold or expect to gain a minimum of a 2:1 Master Degree or equivalent in an appropriate economics/behavioural economics subject. Applicants should have an interest in and preferably some practical experience of behavioural and experimental economics.
Applicants will need to secure their own funding


Bushong, B., King, L. M., Camerer, C. F., & Rangel, A. (2010). Pavlovian Processes in Consumer Choice: The Physical Presence of a Good Increases Willingness-to-Pay. American Economic Review, 100(4), 1556–1571. Doucé, L., & Janssens, W. (2011). The Presence of a Pleasant Ambient Scent in a Fashion Store. Environment and Behavior, 45(2), 215–238. Kechagia, V., & Drichoutis, A. (2016). The effect of olfactory sensory cues on economic decision making. Retrieved from Lusk, J. L., & Shogren, J. F. (2007). Experimental auctions. Methods and applications in economic and marketing research. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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