The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘John Tierney’

The Benefit of Knowing Your Eating Sins

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 7, 2008

Tierney Lab ImageEarlier this week, John Tierney had a nice article, “Health Halo Can Hide the Calories,” in the New York Times about the situation of eating.  Here are some excerpts.

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If you’re a well-informed, health-conscious New Yorker who has put on some unwanted pounds in the past year, it might not be entirely your fault. Here’s a possible alibi: The health halo made you do it.

I offer this alibi after an experiment on New Yorkers that I conducted with Pierre Chandon, a Frenchman who has been studying what researchers call the American obesity paradox. Why, as Americans have paid more and more attention to eating healthily, have we kept getting fatter and fatter?

Dr. Chandon’s answer, derived from laboratory experiments as well as field work at Subway and McDonald’s restaurants, is that Americans have been seduced into overeating by the so-called health halo associated with certain foods and restaurants. His research made me wonder if New Yorkers were particularly vulnerable to this problem, and I asked him to help me investigate.

Our collaboration began in a nutritionally correct neighborhood, Brooklyn’s Park Slope, whose celebrated food co-op has a mission statement to sell “organic, minimally processed and healthful foods.” I hit the streets with two questionnaires designed by Dr. Chandon, a professor of marketing at the Insead business school in Fontainebleau, France, and Alexander Chernev, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University. Half of the 40 people surveyed were shown pictures of a meal consisting of an Applebee’s Oriental Chicken Salad and a 20-ounce cup of regular Pepsi. . . . On average, they estimated that the meal contained 1,011 calories, which was a little high. The meal actually contained 934 calories — 714 from the salad and 220 from the drink.

The other half of the Park Slopers were shown the same salad and drink plus two Fortt’s crackers prominently labeled “Trans Fat Free.” The crackers added 100 calories to the meal, bringing it to 1,034 calories, but their presence skewed people’s estimates in the opposite direction. The average estimate for the whole meal was only 835 calories — 199 calories less than the actual calorie count, and 176 calories less than the average estimate by the other group for the same meal without crackers.

Just as Dr. Chandon had predicted, the trans-fat-free label on the crackers seemed to imbue them with a health halo that magically subtracted calories from the rest of the meal.

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To read the entire article, which includes further discussion of this experiment and also summarizes some additional, related research, click here.  For additional related work by John Tierney, visit the TierneyLab.

For other Situationist posts on the situation of eating and obesity, click here. The American obesity paradox is explored at some length by Situationist Contributors, Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosifon, who devoted a sizeable article to the mistaken but dominant dispositionist attributions made regarding obesity and the actual situational sources of the epidemic. To access their article, entitled “Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America,” click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Food and Drug Law, Illusions, Marketing | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Free To Not Choose

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 12, 2008

In February, John Tierney wrote a great column in February for the New York Times about Dan Ariely’s new book, Predictably Irrational. We already posted about Ariely’s book last week (see here). In this post, we simply wanted to highlight Tierney’s excellent summary of some of Ariely’s experiments.

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In a series of experiments, hundreds of students could not bear to let their options vanish . . . .

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They played a computer game that paid real cash to look for money behind three doors on the screen. . . . After they opened a door by clicking on it, each subsequent click earned a little money, with the sum varying each time.

As each player went through the 100 allotted clicks, he could switch rooms to search for higher payoffs, but each switch used up a click to open the new door. The best strategy was to quickly check out the three rooms and settle in the one with the highest rewards.

Even after students got the hang of the game by practicing it, they were flummoxed when a new visual feature was introduced. If they stayed out of any room, its door would start shrinking and eventually disappear.

They should have ignored those disappearing doors, but the students couldn’t. They wasted so many clicks rushing back to reopen doors that their earnings dropped 15 percent. Even when the penalties for switching grew stiffer — besides losing a click, the players had to pay a cash fee — the students kept losing money by frantically keeping all their doors open.

Why were they so attached to those doors? The players . . . say they were just trying to keep future options open. But that’s not the real reason, according to Dr. Ariely and his collaborator in the experiments, Jiwoong Shin, an economist who is now at Yale.

They plumbed the players’ motivations by introducing yet another twist. This time, even if a door vanished from the screen, players could make it reappear whenever they wanted. But even when they knew it would not cost anything to make the door reappear, they still kept frantically trying to prevent doors from vanishing.

Apparently they did not care so much about maintaining flexibility in the future. What really motivated them was the desire to avoid the immediate pain of watching a door close.

“Closing a door on an option is experienced as a loss, and people are willing to pay a price to avoid the emotion of loss,” Dr. Ariely says.

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To read the entire column, which is terrific, click here To play the three-door game, click here. For related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Regret,” Why You Bought That,” “Just Choose It,” and “Can’t Get No Satisfaction” (Part 2).

Finally, below you can find a fifty-minute video of Ariely discussing and answering questions about his book.

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Book, Choice Myth, Life, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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