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The Power of Social Media on Dietary Adaptation

The influence of different types of content within diet-oriented TikTok clips on the intentions of implementing the demonstrated dietary choices amongst young adults; an

empirical research study.

by Helen S. Schönfelder (12326895)

Supervisor: Nida Gizem Yilmaz University of Amsterdam Graduation Project: Persuasive Communication Tutorial group: 4 Date: 01/07/2022 Word count: 8306



Globally, social media is becoming an increasingly crucial aspect of our lives. Originally intended as a kind of entertainment, it has developed into much more. Social media has become a guide for many individuals in their construction of attitudes, ideas, and behaviour, which are all predictors of how our existence on this planet ultimately unfolds. If we can thoroughly comprehend and deconstruct the different cues of social media material, we will be able to induce content aimed at a positive outcome, which will allow us a sense of control over this unfolding. This study intends to determine the extent to which diverse styles of arranging media content on a same topic result in differing degrees of intentions of implementing the demonstrated behaviour among viewers. The study compares ‘educational’, ‘viral’ and

‘fdoe/non-directive’ TikTok clips, entailing the same topic of vegan dietary choices, on the viewers intentions of implementing the demonstrated dietary choices. Additionally, this study controls for the individuals' previous issue involvement with the topic of dieting, since it was anticipated that this would influence the connection. In order to address the suggested research question as thoroughly as possible, an online experiment was undertaken to analyse the differences in behavioural intentions across three experimental groups of comparable size. The findings provide evidence for ‘viral’ and ‘fdoe/non-directive’ TikToks to have a stronger influence on our behavioural intentions, compared to more directive and ‘educational’

TikToks. Additionally, the investigated moderator ‘previous issue involvement’, was found to significantly impact this relation. The results illustrate the extent to which social media content may impact our behavioural intentions and identify additional particular indicators that may lead to possibly higher behavioural adaptation in response to exposure to a social media message that elicits behaviour change.

Keywords: social media, diet, influence, environment, health, TikTok, content-styles, behavioural adaptation



More and more frequently does the issue of poor dietary behaviour amongst the public affect the functioning of our society (Wang et al., 2011). News headlines such as

“Bad Diets Are Responsible For More Deaths Than Smoking” (NPR, 2019) as well as an overload of other media content, such as TV documentaries, radio podcasts or magazines, address the severe implications of our diet on the population and our planet as a whole.

The ever-increasing obesity rate, our planet's deteriorating environmental conditions as a result of global warming, and the excessive quantity of both food demand and waste in relation to the population are just a few problems that can be attributed to an individual's

"diet" and dietary preferences (Monteiro et al., 2015). Younger generations are disproportionately impacted because they are the ones growing up concurrently with this trend. Online information can be very informative and contribute to educated dietary choices. However, it is no secret that certain nations, most notably the United States and the United Kingdom, deal with increasingly high obesity rates, severe cases of diabetics type 2, heart disease and strokes amongst its population, caused pre-eminently by poor dietary choices. All of this results in huge repercussions for the government and the healthcare system, in addition to a substantial financial load, all of which are avoidable to some degree (Wang et al., 2011). Many of our life decisions have been and continue to be greatly influenced by what we see and are exposed to online, particularly among young adults of this generation. The shampoo we chose at the drugstore, the job we apply to over LinkedIn, as well as the inspiration for our ‘personal’ fashion sense, are only a few components in our lives that define who we are, that are however primarily generated and picked up on via social media platforms we actively use (O'Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011).

Health and fitness is an interesting topic to which people often find information online because it is convenient to do so. This, in turn, affects how we act in this area (Fernández- Luque & Bau, 2015). Specifically, the matter of online dietary behaviour is of high priority and crucial to have a good understanding of, as it is inevitably a part of everyone’s day to day life, and can determine significant considerations, including our levels of energy and productivity, as well as our well-being and general health (De Choudhury, Sharma &

Kiciman, 2016). In the past, the power of social media, viral trends, and the fear of missing out (FOMO) have had a significant impact on the behaviours and perspectives of preteens, teenagers, and young adolescents towards a number of controversial topics, including drugs, alcohol, and tattoos (Akram & Kumar, 2017). One’s diet being one of the most important components of a healthy lifestyle, it is necessary to determine the influenceability of such platforms on our dietary behaviour, in order to be able to improve both the lives of individuals and the functioning of a vibrant and healthy society.


For this, the present research study aims to investigate the effect social media platforms, specifically the novel short-form video hosting application ‘TikTok’, have on our dietary choices and preferences. There is a fine line between viral dietary trends, fact- based nutritional information as well as certain diet-orientations such as ‘vegan’, ‘keto’

or ‘paleo’, which can all be found in the massive content-pool disseminated on social media, regarding the topic of dieting. There is an extensive body of previous research examining the impact of social media on our attitudes regarding various topics such as beauty standards, politics and smoking, which ultimately influence our behaviour (Yoo et al., 2016). However, a thorough literature assessment reveals that the majority of studies focus on the effects of the different current social media channels on our attitudes, rather than the communication and content style inside the channel (Hajli, 2014).

Consequently, disregarding the potential impact of differing content styles in social media messages potentially leading to differing perceptions and behaviours. In other words, there is a significant lack of study on how various means of presenting or simply structuring social media material, for instance in an informative, meaningful, or humorous manner, influence our ultimate attitude and behaviour. Therefore, it can be argued that it is both vital and tremendously intriguing to study how people perceive different forms of content disseminated on social media and the extent to which they impact us and our behaviour in different ways. Especially considering that the issue of nutrition and health might someday be detrimental to both our personal health as well as the health of the general population if it is not addressed appropriately.

Data from several studies suggest that ‘previous issue involvement’ is a significant indicator on individuals attitude formation on a subject, thus it can be assumed that people who are highly involved with a topic or have high previously established knowledge on the issue will be more critical towards a message evoking behavioural change, compared to individuals with low or no previous involvement with the subject (Petty & Cacioppo, 1981).

Gaining insight into the pre-requisites of behaviour modification on this subject, broadens our proficiency in directing ideal dietary advice to the most appropriate audience. From this, the research question to be investigated for this empirical research study has been formulated as follows:

RQ: To what extent does the type of dietary content (viral vs. educational vs. fdoe) in a TikTok, influence young adults intentions of implementing the demonstrated dietary choices, and to what extent does the role of previous issue involvement with the subject moderate this relationship?


The results of this study aim to demonstrate to society the significance and understanding of how social media has the ability to affect change not only in the lives of individuals, but also towards the general population. Specifically, the present study focuses on dieting and health issues affecting young adult social media users, who are the key audience for whom the findings are intended to improve not just their comprehension of how social media influences their choices, but also their dietary behavior. For this, three of the most commonly found styles of social media content have been chosen to shed light on the varying influences on our behavioral intentions from exposure to these content-styles. With this knowledge, it is anticipated that health organizations and government institutions, for example, will be able to direct beneficial information through social media in the most effective manner possible in the future, by adopting the most effective style of social media content on behavioral intentions.

As for scientific relevance, the social media network TikTok has not yet been properly researched on a scientific basis, given it is a relatively new application type compared to Instagram and Facebook (Kallas, 2020). There has been very little scientific report on the effects that TikTok has had, if any, on the eating behaviours of the general population. In addition, similarly to other platforms, TikTok features a wide range of content types. Not only in the externally perceived formats by the users, such as video clips, images or plain text messages, but additionally comprises various internal styles of content. The extent to which the type of content-style determines our attitude and consequent behaviour towards one single subject, lacks thorough investigation from a scientific point of view. This research attempts to particularly address this gap in the literature, while taking into consideration previous issue involvement, and to increase our understanding of which sorts of content influence human behaviour the most and the least. As a result, this study adds to the rich information that prior research has accumulated on the concept and impacts of social media in the modern day. With the insight of how content types influence our behaviour, research is able to provide a solid foundation for a more effective approach to social media usage given our circumstances and resources.

Theoretical Framework

Content type

This research study investigates to what extent the type of content that is perceived from a TikTok clip, has differing effects on viewers behavioural intentions of potentially adopting the suggested dietary aspects. In prior literature, ‘content’ has most often been


referred to as ‘everything that is contained within something’, adapted to the present research study, content refers to the visual and auditory information included as part of the TikTok clip in question (Zuwerink & Devine, 2000). The independent variable has subsequently been split into three levels, each reflecting a different style of content. The first being a ‘fdoe’

which reflects a non-directive type of content portraying an individual’s ‘full day of eating’. This is a popular social media format that reflects an entertaining content style in which users and influencers reveal what their "normal diet" looks like on a daily basis, which can serve as both an inspiration and a guide for viewers. The second being ‘viral’, portraying a content style that has high user engagement and finally the third level reflecting an ‘educational’ content-style, compromising a more directive approach of message distribution. Viral recipe trends are a reoccurring concept on social media, in which a user shows the preparation of a meal or snack, which due to sometimes unclear reasons, goes viral and reaches major viewer engagement, eventually leading to this recipe becoming a ‘trend’. Recent research has established that the term ‘viral’ can be defined as a piece of information, this can be in form of an image or video clip, that is circulated rapidly and widely on the internet (Mills, 2012). Some examples of 2021 are the “baked feta pasta” dish originally posted to TikTok by the Finish blogger ‘Liemessa’, and the “salmon rice bowl” originally posted by ‘Emily Mariko’, which were trending on many users TikTok page, leading to supermarkets across the globe being out of stock of Feta cheese for several days, as official sources report the Feta sales to have increased by 300% after the TikTok went viral (Wharton, 2021).

From a theoretical point of view, these three content-styles generally differ in perceived message characteristics, such as the source, social engagement, visual and auditory cues, which ultimately all play into the viewers reactive response towards the clip. There are a number of preestablished theories that have been developed on the influences various sorts of message qualities might have on the establishment of our behaviours and attitudes. The established framework of ‘media effects’, explains how the media, compromising both mass and social media, influence the public’s perception on certain subjects, which eventually leads to the implementation of a specific behaviour (Neumann & Guggenheim, 2011). As an example, several studies have found that the exposure to violent media content, in many cases causes aggressive behaviour, or exposure to media content that promotes "bad behaviour" such as sexual assault or fraud, increases the likeliness of viewers to engage in "bad behaviours" (Zillmann & Bryant, 2002). This effect however, can if dealt with appropriately, also work in a positive manner and encourage good and sustainable behaviours, as a result of exposure to media content promoting named behaviours (Zillmann & Bryant, 2002). The essence of McQuail's

‘Reader in mass communication theory’ publication, captures how media exposure shapes


our human development with each exposure, ultimately defining who we are, what values we represent and how we behave (Deuze & McQuail, 2020). His research has found evidence that the strongest predictor for behavioural adaption from media content, is enjoyment towards the content, which has additionally been found to be notably determined by ‘affective dispositions towards the interacting parties’ (Zillmann & Bryant, 2002). This theory focuses primarily on the premise that a non-directive type of content depicting an individual's "full day of eating" has a strong influence on our behavioural intentions, as it is expected to be perceived as enjoyable and to potentially compromise an affective disposition towards the content creator. Contrarily, does this theory support the assumption that a more directive approach, such as a "educational" content style, may not have as much of an impact on behavioural intentions, given that this content-style is predicted to be perceived as less enjoyable and to a certain extent compromise the viewer's autonomy of opinion. On the basis of this theory, the "viral" content style is predicted to elicit stronger behavioural intentions, based on the general assumption that viral content is perceived as "enjoyable" by the masses, as well as working with the premise of FOMO (fear of missing out), which will be elaborated on further below. Additionally, the integrative model of behavioural prediction and change, established by Fischbein and Capella, premises a framework on the determinants of how individuals adopt a certain behaviour. The theory emphasizes the influence of external variables such as demography and individual differences, as well as distinguishing between diverse environmental circumstances, which all have a role in the formation and execution of a behaviour (Fishbein & Cappella, 2006).

From these theories, it can be strongly assumed that varying content styles in social media messages, which determine ones social media environment, as well as individual differences such as the previous involvement and knowledge on a topic, inevitably lead to varying behavioural outcomes. However there is a meaningful gap on the specifically mentioned content styles on our behavioural intentions, which the results of the present study attempt to fill.

Dietary changes and behaviour adoption

The dependent variable that is being measured in this empirical research study is the

‘intention of implementing the demonstrated dietary message’ by young adults into their daily routine, after having been exposed to the TikTok. This output factor, according to McGuire is a concept that falls within the twelfth category of ‘behavioural intentions’ in his pre-established matrix specifically designed for scientific research studies (McGuire, 1989). This variable has


been operationalized based on the previously described McGuire matrix in order to attain the best degree of accuracy in the outcomes of this empirical investigation. ‘Behavioural intentions’ according to McGuire can be explained by the verbally expressed intention of the receiver to undertake specific actions or any sort of intention of change within a behaviour (McGuire et al., 1982). Applying this provided definition to the present study, ‘intentions of implementing the demonstrated diet’ is defined as the determination to implement or adopt the dietary choices demonstrated in the TikTok the individual was exposed to.

Previous research has established that behavioural change, whether intentional or not, often stems from exposure to social media content, due to its significant presence in our day to day life as of today (Dolan et al., 2016). Scientific reports found that especially younger generations whom are often more affected by social media exposure, frequently utilise these platforms for intended targeted behavioural change within themselves (McGloin & Eslami, 2015). This might be in the sense of gaining inspiration on a topic of interest, such as fashion, lifestyle, or the arts, or it could be a more targeted search for knowledge that assists them in modifying their behaviour. Examples for this can be to explore information on fitness, in order to improve their physical health, or in regards to this research study, to acquire information on nutrition, in order to improve their dietary lifestyle. The social cognitive theory by Bandura (1977), initially established as the social learning theory, states that in addition to direct, experiential learning, people learn vicariously by observing models. That is, models, such as those on social media, that transmit ‘knowledge, values, cognitive skills, and new styles of behaviour’ to viewers (Bandura, 2009). This suggests that learning a new behaviour does not necessarily require a "planned technique," but might occur rather accidentally in a social context by imitating and reciprocating the behaviours and attitudes of one's environment.

Furthermore, the psychological reactance theory, proposed by Brehm’s (1989), explains how humans have an intrinsic need for autonomy and desire the freedom to think, feel, and act as they choose (Brehm, 1989). Data from several studies suggest that when humans understand that they are the target of an external commercial attempt to convince them, they will regard it as a threat to their autonomy and freedom of choice, resulting in reactance and less likeliness of behavioural change. These theories support the assumption, that content styles that are perceived as less 'directive’ and ‘instructional’ are more effective when seeking behavioural change within people. On top of that, there is a growing body of literature that recognises that the concept of ‘FOMO’ significantly determines what, and what not, we find relevant and influential online (Tandon et al., 2021). Also known as the ‘fear of missing out’, FOMO is the


anxious feeling, that others may be having positive experiences from which one is absent. It is characterized by the desire to be constantly connected to what others are doing in order to not miss out on something (Tandon et al., 2021). The findings from previous studies on this construct are in line with the assumption that a heavily circulated message or social media

‘experience’ is more influential on behavioural adaptation due to the fear of missing out, in contrast to a non-heavily circulated one. In addition, the previous study by Kim (2018) confirmed that 'viral' content in social media, specifically Facebook, has a significantly stronger effect on individuals' behavioural intentions regarding 'health risks' than 'non-viral' content, which resulted in significantly lower behavioural intentions (Kim, 2018). It is anticipated that this will also be the case for the present study, compromising the topic of

"dieting" and the social media platform TikTok.

From this information the following hypotheses have been formed:

H1: TikToks compromising an ‘educational’ content style, have a weaker effect on young adults intention to implement the demonstrated dietary behaviour, compared to TikToks that compromise a ‘viral’ and a ‘FDOE’ content style.

H2: TikToks which appear to be ‘viral’, have an equally strong effect on young adults intention to implement the demonstrated dietary behaviour, as TikToks that appear to be a ‘FDOE’.

Issue involvement

Finally, the moderating variable which is assumed to significantly influence the relationship between the independent and dependent variable is the ‘individuals previous involvement’ with the subject. A number of studies have postulated a convergence between how involved one is with a subject and one’s response towards a behavioural change evoking message. According to previous literature ‘previous issue involvement’ can be defined as any type of previous engagement or involvement, in form of thoughts as well as actions with the topic in question (Antil, 1984). Adapting this definition to the current study, the previous issue involvement controls for the level of involvement the participants already posses with the topic of dieting, which can be in terms of concerning oneself with thoughts and actions related to diet-related matters. When seen from a theoretical perspective, the social judgment theory proposed by Sherif, Sherif and Nebergall, expresses that individuals with


a strong established attitude regarding an issue, have higher levels of literacy and awareness on the matter, and are therefore less inclined to shift their attitudes (Sherif, Sherif & Nebergall, 1965). This theory is based on the concept of a "past attitude," which is referred to as a "anker." According to Sherif and Nebergall, the difficulty of changing one's prior attitude in response to an external stimulus increases in proportion to the strength of the anker. Supposing that one’s current attitude towards a subject, simultaneously reflects ones behaviour on the matter, it is expected that the stronger ones attitudinal anker is, the less likely one is to consider any behavioural adaptations and have behavioural intentions.

A previous study conducted by Petty and Cacioppo, on the attitudinal effects towards advertisement content, has for instance found that an individual’s previous involvement with the advertised matter, significantly moderated the relationship between the advertisement and the resulting level of persuasion towards the ad (1981).

Specifically, this study’s findings showed that individuals whom are more involved with the promoted subject do not always exhibit greater resistance to the advertisement, but rather alter the sequence of communication impact (Petty & Cacioppo, 1981). In other words, individuals with a high level of previous issue involvement exhibited a more critical response to the stimuli and were consequently more introspective about their behavioural decisions. This effect was also confirmed by the study by de Graaf et al., (2015), which examined the extent to which previous involvement with the matter of drinking and alcohol, affected individuals intentions of responsible drinking towards a behavioural change evoking message. The results, similarly revealed that individuals with a high level of previous issue involvement responded more critically, leading to decreased intentions of behavioural change (de Graaf et al., 2015).

In addition, did the study by Petty and Cacioppo state that a behavioural change- inducing message initially influences an individual's cognitions, then attitude, and lastly behaviour, for individuals with high involvement. Whereas for individuals with low involvement a behavioural change evoking message, first influences their cognitions, promptly followed by behavioural change, and ultimately their attitudes (Petty &

Cacioppo, 1981). From the information gathered by the previous theories, the following hypothesis has been formed:

H3: There is a difference amongst young adults intention to implement the demonstrated dietary behaviour based on their level of previous issue involvement with the issue of dieting.


(H1, H2)

Content type Intentions of implementing the demonstrated diet (FDOE, Recipe, Edu. )

(H3) Previous issue involvement Figure 1. Conceptual model



An online administered survey employing online convenience recruitment was used for this study's research instrument. The choice of the incorporation of an online experiment was based on the cost-effectiveness in terms of time and resources required. Due to today's widespread access to computers and the internet, which permits the recruitment of a large sample in a short period of time, as well as the benefit of simple data processing using user- friendly software, an online format was the most acceptable alternative. In a similar manner, the selection of convenience sampling was predicted on the ability to deliver data promptly in spite of restricted time, in addition to the fact that it is both inexpensive and straightforward.

A 3x 2-factorial between-subjects design was employed for this online experiment, indicating that each participant in a given group was allocated to one of three stimulus conditions. These three conditions are the three levels of the independent variable ‘video content type’. The first was a ‘FDOE’ which means ‘full day of eating’, the second level was a ‘viral recipe’ and the third content type was an ‘educational dietary clip’.


For this study, the main target group that has been investigated, are individuals between the ages of 18 and 25 in order to reflect the ‘young adult’ age group as a whole. Previous literature has established this age range to most appropriately reflect the population of young adults (Park et al., 2006), which was chosen due to this simultaneously being the population most active on the social media platform TikTok (Yang & Zilberg, 2020). The sample was


tested using an online experiment, exposing the participants to one of three randomly assigned conditions. With the obtained findings, this experiment aimed to represent an ‘average social media user’ and therefore additionally required all individuals to be an active social media user.

The data used for this research study has been collected from 315 participants. To obtain the requirement of at least 300 participants—50 per condition—the participants were enlisted using convenience sampling via personal invitations and contact channels through Qualtrics.

Having implemented a non-probability sampling strategy as well as the incorporation of realistic experimental stimuli, furthermore contributes to providing a sample holding strong validity and increases the reliability and generalisability of the experimental findings towards the investigated target population. The sampling procedure took place within the time period from the 8th of June until the 18th of June 2022.

The units of measurement are individuals, for whom age, gender, education level and ethnicity was accounted for, to ensure sufficient variance in composition. Prior to the data analysis all cases that did not fall within the inclusion criteria of being an active social media user and between the ages of 18 and 25, or who failed to complete the entire survey or grant consent, were excluded from the data set. The final sample for this research consisted of 315 participants from which 136 were males (43.2%), 176 were females (55.9%) and 3 identified as other (1.0%). A frequency analysis showed that age ranged from 18 to 25, with the majority of participants being aged between 21 and 23 in years (52,4%). Finally, for comparison reasons amongst ethnicity and educational background, the sample complies 84.4% (n= 266) with White ethnicity, 7.9% (n= 25) with Mixed ethnicity, as well as 6% (n= 19) with Asian ethnicity, and finally 1.6% (n= 5) with Black ethnicity. The educational level was mostly high school graduates, with 54.6% (n= 172) having finished high school, 35.2% (n= 111) of participants having a university bachelor’s degree, 8.6% (n= 27) having a graduate or professional degree, and finally 1.6% (n= 5) having less than high school education or ‘other’.


The stimulus materials consisted of three TikTok clips compromising dietary behaviour, focussing on the issue of veganism, of which one was shown to the participant. All three clips conveyed a vegan-diet promoting message, in order to keep the three conditions as similar as possible. The three experimental groups however differed in their content style, in which the TikTok conveyed its nutritional message. The first condition reflected a type of


content portraying an individual’s ‘full day of eating’ (FDOE). The material for this condition, compromised a thirty second clip of a young girl filming her meals throughout one day, which additionally were vegan-friendly. The second condition of the independent level, was a type of content portraying an ‘instructional recipe’ clip, which for the purpose of this research study appeared to be ‘viral’ in terms of user engagement.

The material for this condition, compromised a thirty second clip of a women showing the preparation of a vegan salad recipe, the clip appeared to have over one million ‘likes’

and a large number of user responses. Lastly, the final condition of the independent variable, was a content-type conveying a more educational and informational approach towards diets and dieting. This condition's content consisted of a twenty-second clip of a young man describing the advantages of plant-based protein over dairy protein and why vegan protein may be superior. Therefore, this video included a representative spokesperson, whom was directly addressing the viewer and educating them on specific nutritious dietary components of the presented dietary choice. Screenshots from each stimuli condition can be found attached in the Appendix A.


Foremost, all participants were required to sign an ethical permission form of consent and were briefed with the aim of this research study. Following this, the participants were asked for their age and social media activity, after which they were randomly assigned to one of the three experimental conditions. There was no provided time limit to view the stimuli before continuing to the attached questionnaire. This questionnaire contained questions about the participants perceptions and recollection on the previously shown stimuli, measuring the concepts of previous involvement with the topic of dieting and dietary intentions. Finally, participants were asked several demographic questions to control for any demographic variables such as gender, educational level and ethnicity. All respondents received an identical set of questions in the same order at one point in time to rule out any order effects. Participants were thanked at the conclusion of the survey for their participation.

Manipulation check and pre-test

The formulated survey including the experimental stimuli was tested on 30 participants as a pre-test, these respondents were excluded from the final data collection. The stimuli were deemed to be successful after the pre-test was completed prior to the analysis, as assessed by the 'manipulation check' items, guaranteeing that the stimuli were viewed as intended. The sample from the pre-test revealed to be compiled of mostly 21-25 year old females with a


university degree or higher with White or Mixed ethnicity. The participants in the pre-test showed significant differences in their perception for perceived viralness, level of perceived educational intent and their recognition of the clip demonstrating a ‘full day of eating’ for the three different stimuli conditions. Participants in the viral condition perceived the TikTok clip as significantly more viral than educational F(1,33) = 5.65, p= .024 or demonstrating a full day of eating F(1,33) = 12.71, p= .001. Participants in the fdoe condition perceived the TikTok clip as significantly more of a demonstrating of a full day of eating than educational F(1,33) = 15.69, p< .001 or viral F(1,33) = 12.71, p= .001. And finally, participants in the educational condition perceived the TikTok clip as significantly more educational than viral F(1,33) = 5.65, p= .024 or a full day of eating F(1,33) = 15.69, p< .001.

Above that, equal variances amongst the ‘viral’ and ‘educational’ conditions can be assumed, as the test of homogeneity of variances shows non-significant results for these conditions (viral p= .979; educ. p= .592), this was however not the case for the ‘fdoe’ condition (fdoe p= .029).

Variable and scale construction

Within this research study, participants were asked to indicate their perceptions on the measured concepts via a 7-point Likert scale, encompassing the concepts of previous involvement with the issue of dieting and the intentions of implementing the demonstrated dietary choices. Two previously established scales were implemented for this study. Firstly, the scale based upon and validated by Coulter, Price, and Feick (2003), which measures participants previous issue involvement. Secondly, the scale based upon the developed and validated scale by Kim, Haley, and Koo (2009), which measures the participants behavioural intentions of dietary adaptation, posterior to the exposure to the stimuli. Both scales range from 1= being a negative polar (e.g. strongly disagree) and 7= being a positive polar (e.g. strongly agree). Below an example per measured concept is presented, and the complete survey can be found in the attached Appendix B.

Intentions of implementing the demonstrated dietary choices (DV).

Posterior to the exposure of the stimuli, the dependent variable of the intentions of implementing the demonstrated dietary choices was assessed with 3 items. Using a 7-point Likert scale, the three items measured the extent to which participants agreed or disagreed with statements such as ‘I am more likely to remember the demonstrated dietary choices after seeing


the TikTok.’ and ‘I am more likely to incorporate the demonstrated dietary choices after seeing the TikTok.’. A reliability analysis reveals great scale reliability with a Cronbach’s alpha of .81. Following this, the three items were utilised to compute a new dependent variable (intentions of implementing the demonstrated dietary choices), with the participants mean scores (M= 3.49, SD= 1.62).

Previous issue involvement with dieting (M).

Following the experimental exposure, participants pre-existing issue involvement with the topic of dieting was assessed, in order to establish whether participants had higher previous knowledge and understanding of the topic or lower, to no, previous knowledge and understanding of the topic. Participants were asked to indicate their most accurate perception on statements towards the topic of dieting e.g. ‘Dietary behaviours are fun to me’ and ‘Dietary behaviours are boring to me’. A reliability analysis reveals that this scale provides strong reliability with a Cronbach’s alpha of .73.

Finally, the participants were separated into two groups via a median split calculation, (Md= 4.00) differentiating between participants with high previous issue involvement (n= 161, M = 3.27, SD = 1.66) and participants with low previous issue involvement (n= 154, M = 2.75, SD = 1.62).

Demographic and Control variables

The current study additionally controls for age, gender, social media engagement, educational level, ethnicity and the motivations for utilizing social media platforms. All variables were assessed using multiple-choice questions providing predetermined answer categories, from which participants were instructed to select the answer that best suited them.

In order to avoid any influences based on the respondents social media usage, it was assessed whether the participant first of all uses social media, and secondly for the motivations for using social media with answer options such as: To pass time, entertainment reasons, FOMO related reasons, informational reasons, and ‘other’.



Randomisation and manipulation check

A randomisation check was included in order to ensure no differences in terms of age, gender, educational level and ethnicity, amongst all different experimental conditions, as well as to ensure the successful random assignment of all participants to one of the three stimuli materials.

For this, a Chi-square test of independence was implemented to compare the variable distribution for gender 𝜒! (4, n= 315) = 6.97, p= .14, educational level 𝜒! (8, n= 315) = 4.29, p= .83, ethnicity 𝜒! (6, n= 315) = 2.47, p= .87 and age 𝜒! (4, n= 315) = 2.68, p= .61, as both the independent variable as well as the dependent variable are categorical. According to these results, it can be assumed that the groups did not significantly differ from one another and the randomisation was successful, as the p values for all variables were non-significant.

Following that, a manipulation check was carried out to guarantee that the manipulated stimuli were recognized by the participants. A One-way ANOVA analysis was run, comparing the scores of the manipulation check items measuring the recognition of the “viral recipe”

condition being perceived as ‘viral’, the “educational” condition being perceived as

‘educational’, and finally the “fdoe” condition to be perceived as ‘a demonstration of what one is eating in a day’, amongst the conditions. The test reveals that there is a significant, but weak effect size F(2,312) = 42.96, p < .001, ηpartial

2= .22, for the viral condition, a significant but

weak effect size F(2,312) = 62.77, p < .001, ηpartial

2= .29, for the educational condition. And

finally a significant effect size F(2,312) = 75.1, p < .001, ηpartial

2= .48, for the fdoe condition.

The Post-hoc Scheffe test showed that participants who were exposed to the viral recipe clip, had a stronger perception of the clip being ‘viral’ (M= 5.19, SD= 2.05), than the educational (M= 3.11, SD= 1.73) or fdoe condition (M= 3.02, SD= 1.91, p < .001). Similarly, participants who were exposed to the educational clip, had a stronger perception of the clip being

‘educational’ (M= 5.35, SD= 2.03), than the viral (M= 2.83, SD= 1.79) or fdoe condition (M=

2.72, SD= 1.95, p < .001). And finally, participants who were exposed to the fdoe clip, had a stronger perception of the clip being ‘a demonstration of what one is eating in a day’ (M= 5.38,


SD= 1.96), than the viral (M= 2.79, SD= 1.77) or educational condition (M= 2.64, SD= 1.76, p

< .001). Therefore, the manipulation was successful.

Finally, the item measuring participants motivations for using social media, was implemented as a potential covariate in this research study. A randomisation check was conducted via a One-way ANOVA analysis calculation, measuring the distribution of this variable amongst all conditions. The output provides evidence for an equal distribution of social media usage motivations amongst all conditions F(2,301) = 1.96, p = .143, ηpartial

2 = .01, consequently leading to the exclusion of this variable as a co-variate influencing this study’s findings.

Hypothesis 1 and 2

The statistical technique that has been implemented for the first hypothesis ‘TikToks compromising an ‘educational’ content style, have a weaker effect on young adults intention to implement the demonstrated dietary behaviour, compared to TikToks that compromise a

‘viral’ and a ‘FDOE’ content style.’ and the second hypothesis ‘TikToks which appear to be

‘viral’, have an equally strong effect on young adults intention to implement the demonstrated dietary behaviour, as TikToks that appear to be a ‘FDOE’.’ in this research study, is a two- way ANOVA analysis of variance. The choice of analysis, is grounded in the dependent variable (intentions of implementing the demonstrated dietary choices) being numerical, and the two independent variables (content type and previous issue involvement) being categorical, taking the capitalisation of risk into consideration.

The test revealed a significant but weak main effect of type of content on the intentions of implementing the demonstrated dietary choices F(2, 210) = 29.14, p < .001, ηpartial

2= .12.

The Post Hoc Scheffe test revealed that the intentions of implementing the demonstrated dietary choices were significantly higher for participants exposed to the viral (M = 3.63, SD = 1.64) and fdoe condition (M = 3.47, SD = 1.66), compared to participants exposed to the educational condition (M = 1.97, SD = 1.08), (Mdif= 1.67, p< .001, 95% CI [1.16; 2.18]).

In addition, the findings give evidence that the viral condition (M = 3.63, SD = 1.64), had a considerably equal effect on the intentions of implementing the demonstrated dietary choices in contrast to the fdoe condition (M = 3.47, SD = 1.66), (Mdif= .16, p= .729, 95% CI [- .34; .67]). Based on these significant results, the first and second hypothesis of this research


are supported, that the exposure to viral and ‘FDOE’ social media content compared to educational social media content result in stronger intentions of behavioural change, specifically intentions to implement the demonstrated dietary message. As well as, TikToks which appear to be ‘viral’ and a ‘FDOE’ to have an equally strong effect on young adults intention to implement the demonstrated dietary behaviour.

Hypothesis 3

For the third hypothesis, the two-way ANOVA analysis of variance, found a significant weak main effect on previous issue involvement F(39, 210) = 1.68, p = .012, ηpartial

2= .14,

as well as a significant interaction effect F(63, 210) = 1.46, p = .024, ηpartial

2= .2 of content type and previous issue involvement on the dependent variable intentions of implementing the demonstrated dietary choices.

A simple effects analysis was included to compare the groups of participants with high and low previous involvement. The results signify that both participants with high and low previous involvement share similar intentions of implementing the demonstrated dietary choices. The output reveals participants who have high previous involvement with the topic of dieting, in turn showed moderate intentions of implementing the demonstrated dietary choices when exposed to the educational condition (M = 2.21, SD = 1.25), viral condition (M = 3.99, SD = 1.44) and the fdoe condition (M = 3.76, SD = 1.62, p <. 001). These conditions did not significantly differ from one another, p = 1.000.

For participants who have low previous involvement with the topic of dieting, the fdoe condition (M = 3.09, SD = 1.67) and the viral condition (M = 3.35, SD = 1.75), lead to marginally stronger intentions of implementing the demonstrated dietary choices compared to the educational condition (M = 1.81, SD = .83, p <. 001). These findings support hypothesis 3, as there is a significant main effect as well as an interaction effect of previous issue involvement on the dependent variable, intentions of implementing the demonstrated dietary choices, however the individual scores between the two groups (high and low involvement) on the dependent variable, do not considerably differ from one another.


Conclusion and Discussion

The research question this study aimed to answer, was to what extent various styles of social media content affected participants’ intentions of adopting the dietary choices promoted in the message, and how this effect further differed between participants having high previous involvement with the subject, compared to those having low previous involvement with the subject of dieting. From the test results, it can be concluded that the presentation of an

‘educational’ TikTok leads to a lower intention to implement the demonstrated dietary behaviour amongst young adults, compared to a ‘viral’ and a ‘fdoe’ TikTok, as the first hypothesis is supported. Additionally, the results also showed that ‘viral’ and ‘fdoe’ TikToks, share an equally strong effect on young adults intention to implement the demonstrated dietary behaviour, as the second hypothesis is also supported and no differences amongst these two groups were indicated. Finally, the investigation of the role ‘previous issue involvement’ has on this relationship, confirmed a significant moderating effect on the participants’ intentions of implementing the demonstrated dietary behaviour. More specifically, the results provide evidence that there is a difference amongst young adults intention to implement the demonstrated dietary behaviour based on their level of previous issue involvement with the issue of dieting. These results are consistent with the premise of hypothesis 3.


This research study's conclusions on the effects of social media are, for the most part, congruent with those of earlier studies and their insights. Similar to the previously mentioned studies by Kim (2018), de Graaf et al. (2015), and Petty & Cacioppo (1981), the findings of this empirical study provide evidence that 'viral' social media content is significantly more effective than 'non-viral' social media content, as well as the influence of previous issue involvement on our behavioural outcome. However, this study also found that instructional information, surprisingly, had the least impact on human behaviour. Although one could have thought that individuals feel a sense of authority and competence when exposed to anything or someone aiming to "teach" us, the perceived loss of independence and autonomy substantially surpasses and explains this outcome.

The results of this experiment, significantly highlight the effectiveness of ‘viral’ and

‘fdoe’ content, which reflect a ‘non-directive’ content-style, compared to an educational content style. These results are in line with the theory of psychological reactance theory, proposed by Brehm’s, that lead to the hypothesis of individuals being more reactive towards


content in which their level of freedom and autonomy is not compromised. Especially in light of social media, it seems reasonable that those who seek 'entertainment' from such sources would not want to be told what to do and what not to do. Furthermore, the findings suggested that 'viral' video clips had a virtually comparable influence on participants' behavioural intentions as 'fdoe' clips did. This phenomena can be explained by the social learning theory and the construct of FOMO. According to the named theory, we are inclined to adopt behaviour through observation and imitation of others, often unknowingly, which is consistent with the result that a simple clip showing a behaviour without specific instruction has a greater impact on our own behavioural intentions than a clip explicitly instructing a certain behaviour (Bandura, 2005). Furthermore, the concept of FOMO explains why viral social media material has a greater impact on human behaviour, given that individuals desire to "fit in" and be

"accepted" by society (Mills, 2012). In addition, this experiment gives further proof that an individual's prior involvement with a topic has a major impact on their behavioural intentions in response to a message on that matter. This is consistent with the premise stated by Sherif et al., that individuals with a high level of involvement in a subject are more knowledgeable and, hence, more critical of information regarding the area of interest. Consequently, resulting in a different outcome in terms of behavioural adaptation compared to individuals with less prior experience with the subject.

Limitations and future research

A main limitation within this study was the scope of investigated sample. Although the findings accurately represent a target group of young adults, they are somewhat confined to that age range, the social media platform TikTok, the issue of dieting, and this specific study's participants, who were mostly from Germany and the Netherlands. Future research should seek to extend and broaden the scope of this study by evaluating differences across widely separated age groups in order to evaluate differences between populations that grew up with social media and those who did not. The social media network TikTok, which is mostly utilized by younger generations as of now, nonetheless contains a significant number of senior users who may have a completely different impression of the information circulating on the platform. Examining this would provide greater insight into the various impressions of the innovative social media platform TikTok and bring insights on how to effectively target social media messages to older generations. The examination of people across various continents, for example, would also shed light on cultural biases that may influence the interpretation of social media content. In


addition, it would be fascinating to investigate other pertinent topics outside dieting, such as religion and cult or politics and economics.

Variations in the experimental stimuli employed may have further compromised the validity of this investigation. Although the experimental material was meant to be as similar as possible, two of the TikTok clips that were most effective on behavioural intentions had female spokespeople, while the third condition, which featured a male spokesperson, was the least successful. According to past scientific research, females are commonly connected with more favourably connoted emotions, such as trustworthiness, unobtrusiveness, beauty, and compassion (Peplau, 2003). In contrast to possibly less favourable connoted associations such as power, strength, leadership, and assertiveness, which are typically attributed to males (Peplau, 2003). For this reason, it is suggested that future research take into consideration the source of a social media post and differentiate between genders and perceived source qualities, since this might significantly affect an individual's response to the message.


Our society, as of today, finds itself in a state heavily directed and shaped by social media, as it increasingly has become a part of our everyday lives. Nonetheless, this progressive shift in the power dynamic in society has both benefits and disadvantages. As much as social media can endorse healthy mannerisms, educational information about ongoings in the world or promote favourable attitudes and values amongst the population, this is unfortunately a two way street. Which is to say, that social media inevitably also has the power of feeding into unhealthy mannerisms, misinformation about ongoings in the world, as well as promoting unfavourable attitudes and values amongst its population. In recent years, the subject of health and dieting has become of high priority, as governmental institutions are battling obesity rates and other substandard health conditions amongst its population, as well as struggling to keep up with the deteriorating state of the environment, caused predominantly by the worlds populations dietary choices and preferences amongst other things (Monteiro et al., 2015).

Ironically, social media has become a prominent problem-solving approach for such societal issues over the past decade, with the goal of sending a message to a large audience in a short period of time, which has proven successful on a number of issues, such as the widespread understanding of 'body positivity and bodily acceptance' and the strong increase of vegan dieters in the population, which has positive environmental repercussions (Cohen et al., 2021).


The purpose of this study was to shed light on the most effective content cues in order to demonstrate how to best structure social media material in order to achieve the most ideal outcome: behavioural application of the recommended behaviour. Taking into account all of the collected findings and information gathered on the subject, this study can contribute to successfully and favourably influencing the dietary preferences and choices of the targeted population via social media. The health care system, governmental institutions dealing with the effects of current environmental conditions, and the potential understanding of media manipulation by social media users can all benefit from having knowledge and understanding of the structure of social media content that is most effective on behavioural adaptation.

Henceforth, the aforementioned stakeholders will be able to arrange their behaviour-promoting messages in a non-intrusive and non-directive manner, while also striving for a high degree of user engagement on social media to achieve 'virality' in their circulating messages.

Furthermore, do these findings significantly contribute to the limited body of existing scientific research on novel social media platforms such as the platform under investigation, TikTok, and provide a solid foundation for future research on social media message qualities and their influence on public behaviour. This research gives a considerable illustration of the immense power social media possesses and how this power may be exploited to produce beneficial public health and environmental outcomes.



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Appendix A

Stimuli a. FDOE

b. Viral


c. Educational


Appendix B


Dear participant,

First, thank you for your interest in participating in this research project! Before the

experiment starts, it is important that you are well-informed about the procedure. Therefore, we would like you to read this information letter carefully. Please do not hesitate to ask for clarification about this text or the general procedure. If anything is unclear, the researcher will gladly answer your questions.

The present research is about social media content related to young adults dietary choices.

During the study you will be asked to examine a TikTok video clip. The study will take approximately 7 minutes to complete.

Participation in the study entails no considerable risks or inconveniences. As this research is being carried out under the responsibility of the The Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR), which is part of the University of Amsterdam (UvA), we can guarantee that:

1. Participants will not be identifiable and your information remains confidential and will not be shared without your explicit consent. Your research data will be analyzed to answer the research question as described above in the goal of this study.

2. You can refuse to participate in the research or cut short your participation without having to give a reason for doing so.

For more information about the research, you are welcome to contact the researcher Helen Schönfelder via email

Should you have any complaints or comments about the course of the research and the

procedures it involves as a consequence of your participation in this research, you can contact the designated member of the Ethics Review Board representing ASCoR via ascor-secr- Any complaints or comments will be treated in the strictest confidence.

I hope to have provided you with sufficient information. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you in advance for your assistance with this research, which I greatly appreciate.

Kind regards, Helen Schönfelder

If you would like to participate in the survey, click on “Yes, I participate” below. With this you declare:

- I am 16 years or older.

- I have read and understood the information.

- I agree to participate in the study and to use the data obtained with it.

- I reserve the right to withdraw this consent without giving any reason during the completion of the study.

- I reserve the right to stop the study at any time I wish.


Yes, I am participating No, I am not participating

What is your age?

18-20, 21-23, 24-25, 26+

Do you use social media (Instagram, TikTok, YouTube) ? Yes, No

In the following you will be exposed to a dietary related TikTok clip. Please look at it carefully as you will be expected to answer questions referring to it and will not be able to return once you proceed to the next page.


(1 being ‘strongly disagree’ and 7 being ‘strongly agree’)

Dietary behaviours are part of my self-image.


Dietary behaviours are boring to me.


My diet portrays an image of me to others.


Dietary behaviours are fun to me.


Dietary behaviours are fascinating to me.


Dietary behaviours are important to me.


Dietary behaviours are exciting to me.


I am more likely to remember the demonstrated dietary choices after seeing the TikTok.



I would recommend the demonstrated dietary choices to my friends who are interested in it.


I am more likely to incorporate the demonstrated dietary choices after seeing the TikTok.


What is the main reason for you to use social media?

To pass time, Entertainment reasons, FOMO reasons, Informational reasons, other

To what extent did you perceive the TikTok as:

1- Viral 1-7

2- Educational 1-7

3- A demonstration of what one is eating in a day 1-7

Which gender do you identify with?

Male, Female, Other

What is the highest level of education you have obtained?

Less than high school, high school graduate, University Bachelor degree, Graduate or professional degree (MA, MS, MBA, PhD, JD, MD, DDS, etc.), Other

Which ethnicity do you identify with?

White, Mixed/multiple ethnic groups, Asian/ Asian British, Black/ African/ Caribbean/ Black British, Other

Thank you for participating in this study!

The aim of our study is to investigate whether the content style of a TikTok, has different effects on the viewers perception and ultimate behavioural intentions of adopting

the demonstrated message. As part of this experiment you have been randomly assigned to one of three content styles of a TikTok promoting vegan dietary choices.

If you have any questions about the study, you can email Helen Schönfelder:




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