Halo, or good buy?

Belief that organic food is tastier and healthier is no more than expectation.

Andrew Potter 0

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Many consumers are increasingly willing to pay a premium for organic food because they believe that organic tastes better and is more nutritious than its good old conventionally produced equivalents. That might be because they are succumbing to “the halo effect,” a cognitive bias in which the perception of one trait of a person or object is influenced by the perception of another trait. The classic example is our tendency to see tall people as more competent.

Advertisers have been capitalizing on the halo effect for decades—it’s why sex sells, of course—but a new study suggests that it also applies to food. As part of her master’s research at Cornell University’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Jenny Wan-chen Lee conducted a controlled trial where she asked 144 people to compare what they thought were organic and conventionally produced cookies, yogurt and potato chips. Subjects were then asked to rate each food according to taste, to estimate fat content and number of calories, and to say how much they would pay for each product.

The subjects overwhelmingly preferred the taste of what they thought were the organic foods, perceived them to be healthier, and were willing to pay more for them. The catch, naturally, is that all of the tested items were organic.

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