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The health halo effect: Don't judge a food by its organic label
Date:4/10/2011

Jenny Wan-chen Lee, a graduate student in Cornell University's Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, has been fascinated with a phenomenon known as "the halo effect" for some time. Psychologists have long recognized that how we perceive a particular trait of a person can be influenced by how we perceive other traits of the same individual. In other words, the fact that a person has a positive attribute can radiate a "halo", resulting in the perception that other characteristics associated with that person are also positive. An example of this would be judging an attractive person as intelligent, just because he or she is good-looking.

A growing literature suggests that the halo effect may also apply to foods, and ultimately influence what and 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 caloriesultimately leading them to overeat or feel entitled to indulge. This health halo effect also seems to apply to certain foods considered by many to be especially healthy, such as organic products. Specifically, some people mistakenly assume that these foods are more nutritious just because they carry an "organic" label an area of longstanding active debate among food and nutrition scientists.

As part of her master's research, Lee asked whether the "health halo" surrounding organic foods would lead people to automatically perceive them as tastier or lower in calories. She tested this question by conducting a double-blind, controlled trial in which she asked 144 subjects at the local mall to compare what they thought were conventionally and organically produced chocolate sandwich cookies, plain yogurt, and potato chip
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Contact: Suzanne Price
sprice@nutrition.org
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology
Source:Eurekalert

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