Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Unexpected responses ruin good ideas

This is a great example of why I am fascinated with human behavior. A recent study on low-salt potato chips found some unexpected results. Good news for those of you who would rather eat the real thing.

First, they looked at people who switched to low-salt chips. Some ate more of them because the chips were less satisfying individually. So their total salt didn't go down and their junk food consumption actually went up. Some people who would have switched to other non-junk food snacks if low-salt chips weren't available felt enabled to eat these instead. So their salt AND junk food consumption went up.

Then they looked at a new invention called Crystal Salt. Because it has smaller crystals, you can use less of it and get the same salty taste. The hope was that this would prevent the first finding of the first study (snackers would need to eat more to feel satisfied). But just knowing that these had less salt made people who were trying to cut down on salt feel enabled to eat more of them, so again salt didn't go down and junk food consumption went up. And again, some people that would have switched to other snacks ate these instead - so salt AND junk food consumption went up. A third group that were used to less salty snacks got used to the salty taste and started needing more salt on their other foods because they habituated to the higher level of salt.

In all fairness, there were people who ate less salt in both studies. But there were enough people who ate more (salt or junk food) that it gave them serious second thoughts on the benefits of either low-salt chips or chips made with Crystal Salt.