A new study discovers the word “organic” can bias a person’s impression of food products, influencing shopping and spending habits.
Researchers say an organic label can lead us to think a food is healthier, through what is known as the “health halo effect.” And certain people seem to be more prone to the effect than others.
In the study, Cornell researchers discovered an organic label can influence much more than health views as perceptions of taste, calories and value can be significantly altered when a food is labeled “organic.”
In the study, 115 people were recruited from a local shopping mall in Ithaca, N.Y. Participants were asked to evaluate three pairs of products — two yogurts, two cookies and two potato chip portions.
One item from each food pair was labeled “organic”, while the other was labeled “regular” — even though all of the product pairs were organic and identical. Participants were asked to rate the taste and caloric content of each item, and how much they would be willing to pay for the items.
A questionnaire also inquired about their environmental and shopping habits.
Researchers discovered that even though these foods were all the same, the “organic” label greatly influenced people’s perceptions.
The cookies and yogurt were estimated to have significantly fewer calories when labeled “organic” and people were willing to pay up to 23.4 percent more for them.
The nutritional aspects of these foods were also greatly biased by the health halo effect. The “organic” cookies and yogurt were said to taste “lower in fat” than the “regular” variety, and the “organic” cookies and chips were thought to be more nutritious!
The label even tricked people’s taste buds: when perceived as “organic,” chips seemed more appetizing and yogurt was judged to be more flavorful.
“Regular” cookies were reported to taste better — possibly because people often believe healthy foods are not tasty. All of these foods were exactly the same, but a simple organic label made all the difference.
Investigators discovered that people who regularly read nutrition labels, those who regularly buy organic food, and those who exhibit pro-environmental behaviors (such as recycling or hiking) were less susceptible to the organic health halo effect.
Source: Cornell University