“The halo effect is a cognitive bias whereby the perception of one trait (i.e. a characteristic of a person or object) is influenced by the perception of another trait (or several traits) of that person or object. An example would be judging a good-looking person as more intelligent.”Research conducted by Jenny Wan-chen Lee, a graduate student in Cornell University's Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, has studied the fact that a positive characteristic attributed to certain foods can radiate a "halo" around it so that we may misperceive all other characteristics associated with those foods as positive. The halo effect can not only influence what we eat, but how much we eat.
“For instance, research has shown that people tend to consume more calories at fast-food restaurants claiming to serve "healthier" foods, compared to the amount they eat at a typical burger-and-fry joint. The reasoning is that when people perceive a food to be more nutritious, they tend to let their guard down when it comes to being careful about counting calories -- ultimately leading them to overeat or feel entitled to indulge.“Furthermore, this theory also applies to many types of foods that are said to be healthy. Quite often, people will assume that an organic product is healthier merely for the simple fact that it carries the “organic” label.
To test this hypothesis, Lee asked 144 subjects at a local mall to compare what they thought were conventionally and organically produced chocolate sandwich cookies, plain yogurt, and potato chips. Lee ensured that all products were identical, however labeled some items as organic and others as regular. Each participant was asked to rate, on a scale of 1-9, ten different attributes of each food item, such as overall taste, perception of fat content etc. Participants were also asked to estimate the number of calories and the price they would be willing to pay for each item.
Results showed that subjects mostly preferred the taste of the organically-labeled foods and reported that these same foods were lower in calories, lower in fat, higher in fiber and worth a higher price. Even organically labeled chips and cookies were considered more nutritious.
The bottom line is that many people are deceived by fancy labels, such as “organic”, and truly believe that they are eating healthy when in reality; they may be just as unhealthy as the rest.
Health Halo Effect: Don't Judge a Food by Its Organic Label
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