The Situationist

The Illusion of Health

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 15, 2011

From Time:

If a box of chocolate cookies had an “organic” label, would you feel less guilty about eating them? Would you think they were more nutritious, or tastier?

Economists who study social psychology refer to something called the “halo effect,” a bias in judgment that causes you to assume that one positive attribute comes packaged with a bunch of others. For example, you might perceive your attractive coworker as being more capable as well.

According to a new study by Jenny Wan-chen Lee, a graduate student at Cornell University’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, the halo effect extends to food too: if people are told a food is “organic,” they’re also biased to believe it’s more nutritious and better tasting.

Lee’s study involved 144 people, recruited at a local mall for a taste test: Lee presented shoppers with chocolate sandwich cookies, plain yogurt and potato chips, each in two varieties — “conventional” or “organic.” In reality, there was no difference between the food pairs; everything was organic.

Participants used a nine-point scale to rate various attributes of each food, including overall taste and estimated fat, fiber and calorie content. Tasters also estimated the price of each food.

Uniformly, the participants reported preferring the taste of the foods labeled “organic,” and believed them to be lower in fat, higher in fiber and lower in calories than the conventional alternatives. They also judged the organic foods to be higher in price.

Even in the cases of the cookies and chips — which wouldn’t be considered healthy under any circumstance — most participants believed that the organic versions were more nutritious.

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One Response to “The Illusion of Health”

  1. […] The Illusion of Health – via Situationist- If a box of chocolate cookies had an “organic” label, would you feel less guilty about eating them? Would you think they were more nutritious, or tastier? Economists who study social psychology refer to something called the “halo effect,” a bias in judgment that causes you to assume that one positive attribute comes packaged with a bunch of others. For example, you might perceive your attractive coworker as being more capable as well. Secrets of the Tax-Prep Business – via Mother Jones- JOHN HEWITT WASN’T seeking to turn the working poor into cash cows when his father and some friends helped him buy a six-store tax-service chain in Virginia Beach back in 1982. A 33-year-old college dropout who’d recently left his post as a regional director for H&R Block, Hewitt bought the Mel Jackson Tax Service hoping simply to break his old employer’s near-monopoly on the market. “We’re going to be bigger than H&R Block!” he liked to boast, though his operation was a mere tadpole challenging a leviathan with 7,000 stores in middle-class neighborhoods across the country. Hewitt renamed the company Jackson Hewitt and bet that his early embrace of computers would give him a leg up on his former bosses. But it wasn’t until he began offering something called a refund anticipation loan (RAL)—a product aimed at down-market customers desperate for cash—that his chain really took off. […]

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