Friday, November 14, 2014

Just Because You Bought Your Granola Bar at Whole Foods Doesn't Mean It's Better for You


It’s been nearly a hundred years since psychologists started talking about the “halo effect”: a cognitive bias whereby we assume that if a person has one positive attribute, they must have others. We infer that attractive people, for example, are also trustworthy, intelligent, and kind. Much of the research on the halo effect focused on how perception of attractiveness impacted perception of other traits, but psychologists are still finding new manifestations of the halo effect; the latest research focuses on how it affects our judgments about food. If an item is labeled “low-fat” or “low-sodium,” for instance, we assume it has fewer calories.

For a new paper in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, a team of researchers led by John Pedoza, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Kentucky, found that we assume that food made by a socially conscious company is also healthy. Pedoza and colleagues asked 144 students to evaluate a new brand of granola bar after reading a fictitious newspaper article about the company behind the product. Half the participants read an article describing a company that had won awards for its corporate social responsibility; the other half read about a company whose charitable activities were more modest. (This company had only recently begun donating to a charity.) The newspaper articles also portrayed the companies as having either selfish or altruistic motives for their charitable activities: “selfish” managers admitted that they were hoping their philanthropy would enhance their company’s reputation; “altruistic” managers were motivated primarily by a desire to help the community.

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