The Situationist

Archive for the ‘Food and Drug Law’ Category

Frontier Tort – Selling Beer in Whiteclay

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 15, 2013

Alcoholism Cover Small

At Harvard Law School in the fall of 2012, the 80 students in Professor Hanson’s situationist-orient torts class participated in an experimental group project in their first-year torts class. The project required students to research, discuss, and write a white paper about a current policy problem for which tort law (or some form of civil liability) might provide a partial solution.  Their projects, presentations, and white papers were informed significantly by the mind sciences. You can read more about those projects, view the presentations, and download the white papers at the Frontier Torts website.

One of the group projects involved the sale of alcohol to members of the Oglala Sioux in Whiteclay Nebraska outside the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Here’s the Executive Summary of the white paper.

Native American Alcoholism: A Frontier Tort

Executive Summary


Since its introduction into Native American communities by European colonists, alcohol has plagued the members of many tribes to a disastrous extent. The Oglala Sioux of Pine Ridge have especially suffered from alcoholism, enabled and encouraged by liquor stores just outside the reservation’s borders. Despite the complexities of this situation, media outlets have often reduced it to a pitiable image of dirty, poor Native Americans, degraded by the white man’s vice.

Upon further analysis, however, it becomes evident that there are a variety of factors influencing the situation of Native American alcoholism. While neurobiological, psychological, and genetic factors are often thought to offer plausible internal situational explanations as to why Native Americans suffer so much more potently from this disease than the rest of the nation, high levels of poverty in Native American communities, a traumatic and violent history, and informational issues compound as external situational factors that exacerbate the problem.

Unfortunately, the three major stakeholders in this situation (the alcohol industry, the State of Nebraska, and the Native Americans) have conflicting interests, tactics, and attribution modes that clash significantly in ways that have prevented any meaningful resolution from being reached. However, there are a variety of federal, state, and tribal programs and initiatives that could potentially resolve this issue in a practical way, so long as all key players agree to participate in a meaningful, collaborative effort.

The key to implementation of these policy actions is determining who should bear the costs they require: society as a whole through the traditional federal taxes, the alcohol companies through tort litigation, or the individuals who purchase the alcohol through an alcohol sales tax. Ultimately, an economic analysis leads to the conclusion that liability should be placed upon the alcohol companies and tort litigation damages should fund the suggested policy initiatives.

You can watch the related presentations and download the white paper here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Deep Capture, Food and Drug Law, History, Marketing, Morality, Neuroscience, Politics, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

The Big Game: What Corporations Are Learning About the Human Brain

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 3, 2013

This post (authored by Adam Benforado) was originally published on February 4, 2007.

Superbowl XLI

As I stake out my position on the couch this evening – close enough to reach the pretzels and my beer, but with an optimal view of the TV – it will be nice to imagine that the spectacle about to unfold is a sporting event.It shouldn’t be too hard: after all, there on the screen will be the field, Brian Urlacher stretching out his quads, Peyton Manning tossing a football, referees in their freshly-starched zebra uniforms milling about.Yes, I’ll think to myself, this has all the makings of a football game.

How foolish.

The Super Bowl isn’t about sports; it’s about making money.And with 90 million or so viewers, there is a lot of money to be made.

With CBS charging an estimated $2.6 million for each 30-second advertising spot, it’s no surprise that corporations don’t mess around with guessing what the most effective approach will be for selling their products.They call in the scientists.brain-on-advertising.jpg

For the second year in a row, FKF Applied Research has partnered with the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, to “measure the effect of many of the Super Bowl ads by using fMRI technology.”The research involves “track[ing] the ads on a host of dimensions by looking for activity in key parts of the brain areas that are known to be involved in wanting, choosing, sexual arousal, fear, indecision and reward.”As the FKF website explains, why this research is useful to Fortune 100 companies is that it

shows clearly that what people say in focus groups and in response to poll questions is not what they actually think, feel and do. fMRI scans using our analytical methods allow us to see beyond self report and to understand the emotions and thoughts that are driving (or impeding) behavior.

Looking beyond the spoken word provides immense and actionable insights into a brand, a competitive framework, advertising and visual images and cues.

As it turns out, “brand” lives in a particular place in the human brain:

[W]hen [FKF] did an academic study on the impact of iconic brands, such as Pepsi and Coke and McDonalds, [they] found that the same part of the brain lit up over images of sports logos – say, for the NBA or NFL. There is a clear connection in the human brain between the anticipation of eating that you get from, say, the Coke logo and with the NBA logo.

nfl-coke-logos.jpg

For someone like me, who has always wondered why I feel so hungry reading the sports page, this is interesting stuff.For a corporate CEO, this is extremely interesting – and actionable – stuff.For everyone else . . . this is a reason to be concerned.

Corporations are using science to figure out how our brains work so they can sell more products and what they are finding is that our brains don’t work the way we think they do.

Anticipating this worry, FKF has an Ethics tab on its website:

We are committed to the highest level of ethical behavior in conducting our work. We are determined to be diligent in carving out a new field, and being a leader and advocate in ensuring the best interests of our subjects, the public, and our clients are protected. . . . We believe that wide dissemination about how people make decisions will empower all concerned – both consumers and purveyors of information. Such information, freely discussed in a democracy, will allow us to understand better how marketing is affecting us, discredit manipulation, promote communication, and help illuminate a process that fundamentally shapes the lives of human beings.

Sounds good – in fact, it sounds like situationism, and I have no reason to think that the founders of FKF, or the university scientists with whom they work, aren’t upstanding citizens with good moral compasses.It’s just that I’m still uneasy.

Corporations don’t exactly have a good track record when it comes to learning counterintuitive information about human decision making and then using it responsibly.Rather, the best approach for maximizing shareholder profit is to discover some seemingly-illogical detail about the human brain, use that knowledge to sell more widgets, and then convince the public that their naïve (and incorrect) beliefs about how they make choices are, in fact, correct.

Take big tobacco: as Jon Hanson and others have documented, after figuring out that nicotine was addictive and could compel people to buy marlboro-sm.jpgMarlboros, cigarette companies made a concerted effort to both up nicotine concentrations in their products and convince people, through advertising, that they were rational actors who were not easily manipulated.From the perspective of an entity that is charged, through our legal rules, with making money (and not with doing social good), it makes little sense to alter peoples’ situations to get them to be better consumers and then tell them that you are doing it and that it matters.

Why, that would be as silly as announcing a weak-side blitz to the quarterback before the play.Sure, it would be the nice, ethical thing to warn decent gentlemen like Manning and Rex Grossman of the imminent threat, but it’s not part of the game we’ve developed.Football is a game where you can get blind-sided.

As corporations and our brains make certain, so is watching football.

* * *

(To read about the results of a brain-scan study of men and women watching the 2006 Super Bowl by UCLA neuroscientist Marco Iacobini, click here. To listen to a recent one-hour NPR (On Point) program on “The Changing World of Advertising,” click here.)

Posted in Emotions, Entertainment, Food and Drug Law, Implicit Associations, Life, Marketing, Situationist Sports | 1 Comment »

Robert Lustig on Effects and Politics of Sugar

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 31, 2012

Dr. Robert Lustig (Sugar: The Bitter Truth) speaks at Yale’s Peabody Museum on the policy and politics of the “Sugar Pandemic.” Hosted by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

Related Situationist posts:

For more on the situation of eating, see Situationist contributors Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosfion’s law review article Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America.  For a listing of numerous Situaitonist posts on the situational sources of obesity, click here.

Posted in Food and Drug Law, Politics, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of How We Became Fat – Part 3

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 15, 2012

Part 3 of the BBC’s Remarkable Three-Part Series “The Men Who Made Us Fat”:

Jacques Peretti examines assumptions about what is and is not healthy. He also looks at how product marketing can seduce consumers into buying supposed ‘healthy foods’ such as muesli and juices, both of which can be high in sugar.

He speaks with Simon Wright, an ‘organic consultant’ for Sainsbury’s in the 1990s, who explains how the food industry cashed in on the public’s concerns around salmonella, BSE and GM crops. By 1999 the organic industry was worth over £605M, a rise of 232% within two years.

How did the mainstream food producers compete? Peretti speaks with Kath Dalmeny, former policy director at the Food Commission, who explains some of the marketing strategies used by mainstream food producers to keep our custom.

The programme also explores the impact of successive government initiatives and health campaigns, such as the proposal of ‘traffic light labelling’, the introduction of which the food industry lobbied hard against.

But in 2012, when we have an Olympic Games sponsored by McDonalds and Coca Cola, has anything changed?

Related Situationist posts:

For more on the situation of eating, see Situationist contributors Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosfion’s law review article Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America.  For a listing of numerous Situaitonist posts on the situational sources of obesity, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Distribution, Evolutionary Psychology, Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Public Policy, Public Relations, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of How We Became Fat – Part 2

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 14, 2012

Part 2 of the BBC’s Remarkable Three-Part Series “The Men Who Made Us Fat”:

Jacques Peretti investigates how the concept of ‘supersizing’ changed our eating habits forever. How did we – once a nation of moderate eaters – start to want more?

Speaking to Mike Donahue, former McDonalds Vice President, Peretti explores the history behind the idea of supersizing. 40 years ago, McDonalds hired David Wallerstein, a former cinema manager who had introduced the idea of selling larger popcorn servings in his Chicago cinema. Wallerstein realised that people would eat more but they didn’t like the idea of appearing gluttonous by going back for seconds. By increasing the portion sizes and the cost, he could sell more food. In 1972, he introduced the idea to McDonalds and their first large fries went on sale.

By the 1980s, we were eating more – and eating more often. Perretti speaks with industry professionals to examine the story behind the introduction of value meals, king-size snacks and multi-buy promotions. How did the advertising industry encourage us to eat more often?

The programme also explores the developments in dietary advice – by 2003, the Chief Medical Officer was warning of an ‘obesity time bomb.’ Peretti speaks to obesity expert Professor Philip James, who made recommendations in his 1996 report that the food industry should cease targeting children in their advertisements. He also speaks with Professor Terry Wilkin, who led a pioneering study into childhood weight gain; and former Labour MP David Hinchliffe, who chaired the 2003 Parliamentary Select Committee on Health.

Related Situationist posts:

For more on the situation of eating, see Situationist contributors Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosfion’s law review article Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America.  For a listing of numerous Situaitonist posts on the situational sources of obesity, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Distribution, Evolutionary Psychology, Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Public Policy, Public Relations, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of How We Became Fat – Part 1

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 12, 2012

From Introduction of BBC’s Remarkable Three-Part Series “The Men Who Made Us Fat”:

Around the world, obesity levels are rising. More people are now overweight than undernourished. Two thirds of British adults are overweight and one in four of us is classified as obese. In the first of this three-part series, Jacques Peretti traces those responsible for revolutionising our eating habits, to find out how decisions made in America 40 years ago influence the way we eat now.

Peretti travels to America to investigate the story of high-fructose corn syrup. The sweetener was championed in the US in the 1970s by Richard Nixon’s agriculture secretary Earl Butz to make use of the excess corn grown by farmers. Cheaper and sweeter than sugar, it soon found its way into almost all processed foods and soft drinks. HFCS is not only sweeter than sugar, it also interferes with leptin, the hormone that controls appetite, so once you start eating or drinking it, you don’t know when to stop.

Endocrinologist Robert Lustig was one of the first to recognise the dangers of HFCS but his findings were discredited at the time. Meanwhile a US Congress report blamed fat, not sugar, for the disturbing rise in cardio-vascular disease and the food industry responded with ranges of ‘low fat’, ‘heart healthy’ products in which the fat was removed – but the substitute was yet more sugar.

Meanwhile, in 1970s Britain, food manufacturers used advertising campaigns to promote the idea of snacking between meals. Outside the home, fast food chains offered clean, bright premises with tempting burgers cooked and served with a very un-British zeal and efficiency. Twenty years after the arrival of McDonalds, the number of fast food outlets in Britain had quadrupled.

Related Situationist posts:

For more on the situation of eating, see Situationist contributors Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosfion’s law review article Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America.  For a listing of numerous Situaitonist posts on the situational sources of obesity, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Distribution, Evolutionary Psychology, Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Public Policy, Public Relations, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Michael Pollan on the Political Situation of Food

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 29, 2012

Host Harry Kreisler welcomes writer Michael Pollan for a discussion of the agricultural industrial complex that dominates consumer choices about what to eat. He explores the origins, evolution and consequences of this system for the nations health and environment. He highlights the role of science, journalism, and politics in the development of a diet that emphasizes nutrition over food. Pollan also sketches a reform agenda and speculates on how a movement might change Americas eating habits. He also talks about science writing, the rewards of gardening, and how students might prepare for the future.

Related Situationist posts:

For more on the situation of eating, see Situationist contributors Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosfion’s law review article Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America.  For a listing of numerous Situaitonist posts on the situational sources of obesity, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Distribution, Education, Food and Drug Law, Ideology, Marketing, Politics, Video | 2 Comments »

Marion Nestle on The Situation of Our Food

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 28, 2012

Related Situationist posts:

For more on the situation of eating, see Situationist contributors Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosfion’s law review article Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America.  For a listing of numerous Situaitonist posts on the situational sources of obesity, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Environment, Food and Drug Law, History, Marketing, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Deeply Captured Situation of Sugar

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 25, 2012

Mother Jones has a superb new article on the deeply captured situation of sugar.  It begins as follows:

ON A BRISK SPRING Tuesday in 1976, a pair of executives from the Sugar Association stepped up to the podium of a Chicago ballroom to accept the Oscar of the public relations world, the Silver Anvil award for excellence in “the forging of public opinion.” The trade group had recently pulled off one of the greatest turnarounds in PR history. For nearly a decade, the sugar industry had been buffeted by crisis after crisis as the media and the public soured on sugar and scientists began to view it as a likely cause of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Industry ads claiming that eating sugar helped you lose weight had been called out by the Federal Trade Commission, and the Food and Drug Administration had launched a review of whether sugar was even safe to eat. Consumption had declined 12 percent in just two years, and producers could see where that trend might lead. As John “JW” Tatem Jr. and Jack O’Connell Jr., the Sugar Association’s president and director of public relations, posed that day with their trophies, their smiles only hinted at the coup they’d just pulled off.

Their winning campaign, crafted with the help of the prestigious public relations firm Carl Byoir & Associates, had been prompted by a poll showing that consumers had come to see sugar as fattening, and that most doctors suspected it might exacerbate, if not cause, heart disease and diabetes. With an initial annual budget of nearly $800,000 ($3.4 million today) collected from the makers of Dixie Crystals, Domino, C&H, Great Western, and other sugar brands, the association recruited a stable of medical and nutritional professionals to allay the public’s fears, brought snack and beverage companies into the fold, and bankrolled scientific papers that contributed to a “highly supportive” FDA ruling, which, the Silver Anvil application boasted, made it “unlikely that sugar will be subject to legislative restriction in coming years.”

The story of sugar, as Tatem told it, was one of a harmless product under attack by “opportunists dedicated to exploiting the consuming public.” Over the subsequent decades, it would be transformed from what the New York Times in 1977 had deemed “a villain in disguise” into a nutrient so seemingly innocuous that even the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association approved it as part of a healthy diet. Research on the suspected links between sugar and chronic disease largely ground to a halt by the late 1980s, and scientists came to view such pursuits as a career dead end. So effective were the Sugar Association’s efforts that, to this day, no consensus exists about sugar’s potential dangers. The industry’s PR campaign corresponded roughly with a significant rise in Americans’ consumption of “caloric sweeteners,” including table sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This increase was accompanied, in turn, by a surge in the chronic diseases increasingly linked to sugar. Since 1970, obesity rates in the United States have more than doubled, while the incidence of diabetes has more than tripled.

Read the entire article and related items here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Deep Capture, Food and Drug Law, History, Ideology, Life, Marketing, Public Relations | 1 Comment »

The Agricultural Situation of Climate Change

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 16, 2012

From TEDxTC:

A skyrocketing demand for food means that agriculture has become the largest driver of climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental destruction. At TEDxTC Jonathan Foley shows why we desperately need to begin “terraculture” — farming for the whole planet.

Jonathan Foley studies complex environmental systems and their affects on society. His computer models have shown the deep impact agriculture is having on our planet.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Environment, Food and Drug Law, Video | Leave a Comment »

How Much Choice Would You Choose?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 30, 2012

From Harvard Gazette:

Undergraduates packed Science Center E on Monday to hear two of Harvard’s leading social scientists discuss the way that humans make decisions, and whether having more choices really makes us happier.

The event, “What is Your N? A Personality Test for 4 AM Philosophers,” featured a conversation between social psychologist Dan Gilbert and economist N. Gregory Mankiw, and was sponsored by the Harvard University Initiative on the Foundations of Human Behavior. The discussion was moderated by professors Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School and the Department of Sociology and David Laibson of the Department of Economics.

Laibson began the debate with the following thought experiment:

“We have pre-selected 100 different bottles of alcohol, covering all popular categories — beer, wine, rum, gin, vodka, whiskey, etc. Another person (who remains anonymous) is going to take one (regular-sized) drink, poured from one of the 100 bottles. Call him/her the recipient.

You will pick the number of bottles that the recipient will be able to choose among. To give the recipient complete choice, you would pick N = 100. To simplify the recipient’s decision, you would pick N < 100. You can pick any N value from 1 to 100.

If you pick N < 100, a robot will randomly determine which of the original 100 bottles the recipient will receive (with no repeats). You don’t get to pre-select the specific bottles the robot will choose. The N bottles will be presented to the recipient in categories (like whiskeys or vodkas), so the recipient can easily sort through them.

Your job is to pick N so as to maximize the happiness of the recipient.”

Next, Laibson asked the group to choose the number of bottles that they would send to the recipient under two different scenarios. In the first, the recipient would never know that there were 100 bottles to begin with. In the second scenario, he or she would.

As the students tapped on their laptops to submit their responses to the question online, Mankiw and Gilbert had at it. Mankiw kicked off the discussion by saying that the answer was easy for him and, he hoped, for anyone who had taken his introductory economics class. He would send the anonymous stranger all 100 bottles. Without any knowledge of the recipient’s tastes, it made sense to send as many bottles as possible in order to increase the chance that the stranger would get a drink that they would like.

“My wife and I [recently] went to a bar and had a drink and dinner,” he explained. “The bar had a big selection. I had no trouble at all. I said ‘I want a Tanqueray martini on the rocks with a twist.’ If the bartender had said ‘We randomly reduced the number of selections, so we don’t have Tanqueray tonight. We have Bombay Sapphire,’ I would have been a little disappointed. If they had said ‘We only have Gordon’s gin tonight,’ I would have been really upset. And if they had said ‘All we have is Kahlua, and crème de menthe,’ I would have walked out. So it was very clear to me that more selection is good.”

Gilbert said that Mankiw’s answer was not surprising. Americans like choices; the more the better. We want to choose what we want, even if the options are so great that our decision becomes essentially random. But Gilbert said there is more to choice than simply matching selection with preferences, and that there are costs associated with decision making, particularly when the options are too great. To illustrate his point, Gilbert described a study by Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir.

Shafir presented doctors with a pink pill that was said to treat osteoarthritis. The physicians learned about the drug, and then were asked whether or not they would be likely to prescribe it. Most said that they would.

Shafir then went to another group of physicians, this time with a pink and blue pill. He told the group that both would treat osteoarthritis and that the drugs were similar in their effects, aside from their color. He asked this group of doctors whether they would prescribe the pink pill, the blue pill, or neither. Fewer doctors said that they would give patients a pill — either pink or blue — than the group that had been presented with only one pill.

“You should get at least the same number prescribing one of the pills,” said Gilbert. “Or even more, because some will only like blue pills. However, the actual number goes down. Why? Because the physicians say ‘Well, I could do nothing, or choose between one of these two similar pills and I really can’t decide between them, so I’ll do nothing, because nothing looks really different than the pill.”

In terms of Laibson’s thought exercise, Gilbert noted that more bottles and more types of liquor could make the decision more difficult for the recipient. If you offer the drinker wine or beer, and the drinker likes wine, the choice is easy. But if the drinker likes wine and gets four different bottles to choose from versus one type of beer, they might actually choose the beer, even though they prefer wine.

“Because I’ve given you extra choices, you have now gone to the thing you like less, because you can’t think of a good reason to pick among the wines that are so similar,” Gilbert said.

After some waffling, Gilbert, half seriously, gave the number of bottles he would send to the stranger: two.

“Then you have only Kahlua and crème de menthe!” laughed Mankiw.

After Gilbert and Mankiw held forth, Laibson revealed the results of the online poll. Under conditions where the recipient would not be informed if their choices were narrowed, there was a barbell-shaped distribution. A large group of the 220 student respondents said that they would send between zero and 30 bottles to the drinker, with another group up at 100 bottles. In the second scenario, however, where the recipient would know if the selection had been pared, undergraduates overwhelmingly voted to send all 100 bottles to the drinker.

The results were fascinating to Laibson, who has studied employee participation in retirement plans and discovered that enrollment increases dramatically when workers are automatically enrolled and must voluntarily opt out. Given that the criticism for making auto enrollment the default in business is often that the policy is paternalistic, the results of the survey shed light on when people are OK with “Big Brother” and when they are not.

“The message here seems to be ‘Be a paternalist, but keep it a secret,’” Laibson said, eliciting laughter from the students. “The minute the recipient knows [his or her choices have been narrowed], this community gives a different answer [to the thought experiment]. Paternalism is bad when the recipient understands that paternalistic motives organize what happens to them.”

Related Situationist posts:

You can review hundreds of Situationist posts related to the topic of “choice myth” here.

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Choice Myth, Events, Food and Drug Law, Ideology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off

The Evolutionary Biology of Obesity

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 13, 2012

Harvard’s Daniel Lieberman, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology, speaks about the evolutionary origins of today’s obesity epidemic.

For more on the situation of eating, see Situationist contributors Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosfion’s law review article Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America.  For a listing of numerous Situaitonist posts on the situational sources of obesity, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Evolutionary Psychology, Food and Drug Law, History, Life, Video | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The Situational Effects of Food Advertising

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 9, 2012

Pierre Chandonm and Brian Wansink recently posted their paper “Is Food Marketing Making Us Fat? A Multi-Disciplinary Review” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

Whereas everyone recognizes that increasing obesity rates worldwide are driven by a complex set of interrelated factors, the marketing actions of the food industry are often singled out as one of the main culprits. But how exactly is food marketing making us fat? To answer this question, we review evidence provided by studies in marketing, nutrition, psychology, economics, food science, and related disciplines that have examined the links between food marketing and energy intake but have remained largely disconnected. Starting with the most obtrusive and most studied marketing actions, we explain the multiple ways in which food prices (including temporary price promotions) and marketing communication (including branding and nutrition and health claims) influence consumption volume. We then study the effects of less conspicuous marketing actions which can have powerful effects on eating behavior without being noticed by consumers. We examine the effects on consumption of changes in the food’s quality (including its composition, nutritional and sensory properties) and quantity (including the range, size and shape of the packages and portions in which it is available). Finally, we review the effects of the eating environment, including the availability, salience and convenience of food, the type, size and shape of serving containers, and the atmospherics of the purchase and consumption environment. We conclude with research and policy implications.

Download the paper for free here.

Related Situationist posts:

For more on the situation of eating, see Situationist contributors Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosfion’s law review article Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America.  For a listing of numerousSituaitonist posts on the situational sources of obesity, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Education, Food and Drug Law, Marketing | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Big Game: What Corporations Are Learning About the Human Brain

Posted by Adam Benforado on February 5, 2012

This post was originally published on February 4, 2007.

Superbowl XLI

As I stake out my position on the couch this evening – close enough to reach the pretzels and my beer, but with an optimal view of the TV – it will be nice to imagine that the spectacle about to unfold is a sporting event.It shouldn’t be too hard: after all, there on the screen will be the field, Brian Urlacher stretching out his quads, Peyton Manning tossing a football, referees in their freshly-starched zebra uniforms milling about.Yes, I’ll think to myself, this has all the makings of a football game.

How foolish.

The Super Bowl isn’t about sports; it’s about making money.And with 90 million or so viewers, there is a lot of money to be made.

With CBS charging an estimated $2.6 million for each 30-second advertising spot, it’s no surprise that corporations don’t mess around with guessing what the most effective approach will be for selling their products.They call in the scientists.brain-on-advertising.jpg

For the second year in a row, FKF Applied Research has partnered with the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, to “measure the effect of many of the Super Bowl ads by using fMRI technology.”The research involves “track[ing] the ads on a host of dimensions by looking for activity in key parts of the brain areas that are known to be involved in wanting, choosing, sexual arousal, fear, indecision and reward.”As the FKF website explains, why this research is useful to Fortune 100 companies is that it

shows clearly that what people say in focus groups and in response to poll questions is not what they actually think, feel and do. fMRI scans using our analytical methods allow us to see beyond self report and to understand the emotions and thoughts that are driving (or impeding) behavior.

Looking beyond the spoken word provides immense and actionable insights into a brand, a competitive framework, advertising and visual images and cues.

As it turns out, “brand” lives in a particular place in the human brain:

[W]hen [FKF] did an academic study on the impact of iconic brands, such as Pepsi and Coke and McDonalds, [they] found that the same part of the brain lit up over images of sports logos – say, for the NBA or NFL. There is a clear connection in the human brain between the anticipation of eating that you get from, say, the Coke logo and with the NBA logo.

nfl-coke-logos.jpg

For someone like me, who has always wondered why I feel so hungry reading the sports page, this is interesting stuff.For a corporate CEO, this is extremely interesting – and actionable – stuff.For everyone else . . . this is a reason to be concerned.

Corporations are using science to figure out how our brains work so they can sell more products and what they are finding is that our brains don’t work the way we think they do.

Anticipating this worry, FKF has an Ethics tab on its website:

We are committed to the highest level of ethical behavior in conducting our work. We are determined to be diligent in carving out a new field, and being a leader and advocate in ensuring the best interests of our subjects, the public, and our clients are protected. . . . We believe that wide dissemination about how people make decisions will empower all concerned – both consumers and purveyors of information. Such information, freely discussed in a democracy, will allow us to understand better how marketing is affecting us, discredit manipulation, promote communication, and help illuminate a process that fundamentally shapes the lives of human beings.

Sounds good – in fact, it sounds like situationism, and I have no reason to think that the founders of FKF, or the university scientists with whom they work, aren’t upstanding citizens with good moral compasses.It’s just that I’m still uneasy.

Corporations don’t exactly have a good track record when it comes to learning counterintuitive information about human decision making and then using it responsibly.Rather, the best approach for maximizing shareholder profit is to discover some seemingly-illogical detail about the human brain, use that knowledge to sell more widgets, and then convince the public that their naïve (and incorrect) beliefs about how they make choices are, in fact, correct.

Take big tobacco: as Jon Hanson and others have documented, after figuring out that nicotine was addictive and could compel people to buy marlboro-sm.jpgMarlboros, cigarette companies made a concerted effort to both up nicotine concentrations in their products and convince people, through advertising, that they were rational actors who were not easily manipulated.From the perspective of an entity that is charged, through our legal rules, with making money (and not with doing social good), it makes little sense to alter peoples’ situations to get them to be better consumers and then tell them that you are doing it and that it matters.

Why, that would be as silly as announcing a weak-side blitz to the quarterback before the play.Sure, it would be the nice, ethical thing to warn decent gentlemen like Manning and Rex Grossman of the imminent threat, but it’s not part of the game we’ve developed.Football is a game where you can get blind-sided.

As corporations and our brains make certain, so is watching football.

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(To read about the results of a brain-scan study of men and women watching the 2006 Super Bowl by UCLA neuroscientist Marco Iacobini, click here. To listen to a recent one-hour NPR (On Point) program on “The Changing World of Advertising,” click here.)

Posted in Emotions, Entertainment, Food and Drug Law, Implicit Associations, Life, Marketing, Situationist Sports | 4 Comments »

Situation, McDonalds, & Tort Law

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 15, 2011

Professor Caroline Forell has written a wonderfully thoughtful, situationist article, titled “McTorts: The Social and Legal Impact of McDonald’s Role in Tort Suits (forthcoming in Volume 24 of the Loyola Consumer Law Review) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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McDonald’s is everywhere. With more than 32,000 restaurants around the world, its Golden Arches and “Mc” conjure up both the good and the bad about American capitalism.

This article looks at McDonald’s, impact on public policy, and tort law from historical and social psychology perspectives, following McDonald’s from its beginnings in the mid-1950’s through today. By examining McDonald’s Corp. v. Steel and Morris (McLibel), Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants (Hot Coffee), and Pelman v. McDonald’s Corp. (Childhood Obesity), I demonstrate that certain tort cases involving McDonald’s have had particularly important social and legal consequences that I attribute to McDonald’s special influence over the human psyche, beginning in childhood. In explaining McDonald’s extraordinary power over the public imagination and how this affects lawsuits involving it, I rely on the social psychology approach called situationism that recognizes the strong effect that environmental influences can have on individual decision-making. I conclude that lawsuits involving McDonald’s have had and will continue to have important social and legal consequences because of the unique role this corporation plays in our lives.

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Download the paper for free here.

Related Situationist posts:

Professor Forell relies on an article by Situationist Contributors, Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosifon, entitled “Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America,” which you can access here.

Review tens of Situationist posts on the topic of diet and obesity by clicking here.

Posted in Abstracts, Food and Drug Law, Law, Legal Theory, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Marketing Situation of Doritos (FTC Complaint)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 19, 2011

NPLAN filed a complaint today with the FTC today alleging that Frito-Lay has engaged in deceptive marketing to teens by disguising Doritos ads as entertainment; by collecting and using kids’ personal information in violation of its own privacy policy and without adequate disclosure about the extent and purpose of the data collection; and by engaging in viral marketing in violation of the FTC’s endorsement guidelines. Learn more about the complaint here.

These videos, which detail the advertising strategies and goals, speak for themselves.

Related Situationist posts:

For more on the situation of eating, see Situationist contributors Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosfion’s law review article Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in AmericaFor a listing of numerous Situaitonist posts on the situational sources of obesity, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Emotions, Entertainment, Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Video | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Nicholas Christakis on the Situation of Epidemics

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 16, 2011

From TED Talks:

After mapping humans’ intricate social networks, Nicholas Christakis and colleague James Fowler began investigating how this information could better our lives. Now, he reveals his hot-off-the-press findings: These networks can be used to detect epidemics earlier than ever, from the spread of innovative ideas to risky behaviors to viruses (like H1N1).

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Distribution, Emotions, Food and Drug Law, Life, Video | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

McDonald’s Favorite Man: Don Gorske

Posted by Adam Benforado on May 19, 2011

May 17th is an important day for Ronald.

You see, each year it marks the anniversary of when one Fond du Lac, Wisconsin man decided to start eating Big Macs.

Since 1972, that man, Don Gorske, has eaten 25,000 of McDonald’s famous burgers — typically two a day — becoming, as I and other Situationist contributors have chronicled (here in short form and here in long form), one of McDonald’s prize assets in its fight to avoid litigation and regulation related to the health consequences of consuming its products.  The reason?  In these 39 years, Gorske has been able to maintain relatively good health, low cholesterol, and, perhaps most importantly, a slim figure — clear proof that McDonald’s food can be eaten in copious quantities with no ill effects.

As McDonald’s explained in a press release for the special occasion: “Who could blame him for being such a fan of the Big Mac?  We’re honored that Don Gorske continues to be a longtime, loyal customer.  We look forward to serving him for many years to come.”

So what’s my “beef,” so to speak?

In part, it’s the same one that I’ve blogged about before (here and here): I think celebrating people like Gorske can seriously distort our conversation about the causes of obesity and undermine our ability to combat the epidemic.  When we constantly see or hear about skinny people eating excessively and not gaining weight, it is hard to get the message about the health costs of high calorie diets.  And these stories seem to be everywhere.

Here is Penelope Cruz, in the June issue of Vogue, talking about her post-Oscars routine:

When it was over, she headed over to In-N-Out Burger, still wrapped in her vintage white Balmain gown.  “You have to remove the tight dress to eat a Double Double monster cheeseburger with everything on it,” she says.   The post-Oscar In-N-Out burger has become a ritual.   It’s happened after each of her nominations–the hungry Spanish bombshell at the drive-through.

Here is extreme eating champion Kobayashi challenging a grizzly bear in a hotdog eating contest with the announcers explaining, “Look at how skinny Kobayashi is and look at the size of the bear. . . . He’s in great shape, you can tell he’s an athlete.”

Turn on the television or open a magazine and you’ll see countless other examples.

The other part of my problem with the Gorske celebration is that Gorske’s eating appears to be driven by a psychological disorder.  He has suggested that he suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Not only is he compelled to eat the same sandwich every single day (storing frozen sandwiches in his freezer for an emergency), but he has also kept most of the hamburger boxes and receipts from his purchases.  The 25,000 Big Macs is a manifestation of an often-debilitating mental illness, not the occasion for a corporate press release.

What do you think?

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Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Choice Myth, Food and Drug Law | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

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.

More.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Food and Drug Law, Illusions, Marketing | 1 Comment »

Sending the Wrong Message

Posted by Adam Benforado on March 23, 2011

Joe D’Amico probably had the best of intentions when he set out to eat an all-McDonald’s diet for thirty days leading up to the L.A. Marathon. And, in fact, as a result of internet buzz, his “food challenge” ended up raising $26,000 for Ronald McDonald charities.

At the race a few days ago, D’Amico set a personal record and improved his cholesterol levels in the process!

So a clear win-win-win!

But isn’t there some Grinch out there to point out the dark side of all of this?

Not at the Huffington Post, which has been nothing but complementary (see here and here), . . . leaving it to the Situationist to rain on everyone’s parade.

Why am I skeptical about this stunt?

Well, for starters it fits in quite neatly with previous strategies by big tobacco and big food to employ salient counterexamples to show that cigarettes don’t cause cancer and eating copious amounts of fast food has no ill effects on a person’s health.

As Situationist contributors Jon Hanson, David Yosifon, and I chronicled in the 2004 article, “Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America,” Don Gorske, the six foot tall, 170-pound world record holder for eating Big Macs (over 20,000 as of July 2004), has been repeatedly cited as proof that plentiful fast food doesn’t cause weight gain. The problem, in part, is that “we use positive-test theories to analyze the evidence we confront. If we want proof that fast food does not make people fat, and that it is, in fact, a matter of genes or watching too many Friends reruns, all we have to do is go into any McDonald’s and our eyes and minds will fix on the one or two skinny people wolfing down Big Macs.”

D’Amico may not know it, but he’s just a tool in McDonald’s box of strategies aimed at fighting the science on obesity that links the high calorie, sweet and salty foods that the fast food company sells with serious health problems.

In interviews, D’Amico hems so closely to the company line that it’s hard to believe he’s not an official spokesman: “If you make good choices and better choices more often than not, you’re going to have good results . . . . There’s diet, there’s exercise, there’s stress. There’s a lot of things. That’s something I try to tell people to keep in mind. Don’t focus on one aspect look at things as a whole.”

Ronald himself couldn’t have said it better: go ahead order that Angus Bacon and Cheese, large fries, and Chocolate Triple Thick Shake.  What’s a 2400 calorie lunch (with 91 grams of fat) going to do?  Probably lower your cholesterol!

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Related Situationist Posts:

Posted in Deep Capture, Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Public Relations, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

 
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