Monday, July 19, 2010
I have blogged about the effects of nutrition labeling before. One finding I have pointed to before is that low fat products increase the number of calories that people consume because people feel entitled to eat more of them, even though the fat is often replaced with the same number of calories of sugar that were removed in the fat. This is true of things like low fat cookies and chips, but not originally healthful foods like fruits and vegetables.
A new study again shows that there are unforeseen consequences of labels that must be accounted for in the development of public policy and standards. Schuldt and Schwartz just published a study in the journal Judgment and Decision Making that found that foods labeled “organic” had the same effect. People assumed that organic foods have fewer calories and thus felt entitled to eat more of them. So the total caloric intake was higher. In fact, the more sensitive the consumers were to organic foods (i.e. environmentalists), the greater the effect this had (even though these individuals should have been more aware that organic processing does not impact calories at all).
Our everyday decision making is based on aggregate statistics, whether we realize we are doing that or not. Basically, the more something happens, the more we expect it to happen in the future. There are influences on that relationship that creates biases in different kinds of situations, but experience is generally the largest impact on our decisions.
The problem with this is that our brain did not evolve to separate factual experience from fiction (TV, movies, even dreams). This makes sense because 99% of our evolution occurred before there was TV and even campfire stories were mostly true throughout most of human history. So when we see things on TV or movies, they have just as much of an impact on our future decisions as real life does. It’s even worse because we don’t realize this is happening so we can’t stop it.
TV shows like CSI have increased juries’ expectations for what forensic science should be able to do. They now hold real CSIs to a higher standard than is really possible. Defendants are more likely to be found not guilty or to get lighter sentences because of a TV show.
A new study by Levine, to be published in the journal Communication Research illustrates an interesting example of this. The show Lie to Me has created a new effect. People who watch this show are more likely to think people are lying, but actually less able to tell when people are lying. Oops.