Potato chips become “veggie chips”, sugar-laden milkshakes “smoothies” and sweet sodas turn into “flavored water” – a study in the Journal of Consumer Research looked at how names influence even health-conscious individuals into making unhealthy choices.
The concept of giving something with a bad rep a nicer name to heighten acceptance is not new. Already twenty years ago, municipalities in Germany labeled waste dumps as “recycling parks” – “recycling” being much more positive than “dump”, and “park” most people associate with green meadows and lush trees.
Of course that didn’t change anything about the fact that you can smell the places 10 miles against the wind and them looking like the moon would after a rock concert.
What is utilized here is a principle by which people learn: the principle of association. When a child touches a flame, it quickly learns to associate “flame” with “heat” and “hurt”. As adults, we still organize our world in the same way, it only is more evolved. Grey suits are associated with business people, a big car with being rich and New York Times readers are labeled as conservative intellectuals.
And this principle makes sense – to a certain extent. Because without it, we would day by day have to spend so much time organizing what we experience, we wouldn’t be able to do anything else.
The problem is only that we tend to rely too much on it. We get lazy; once we organized, it’s hard to budge us into thinking differently and this can be exploited.
Not All Salads Are Equal
Conscious choices normally are good choices and health-conscious persons make rather conscious food choices. But could they still be tricked into making unhealthy choices?
Three scientists tried to find out. In one study, they put together a dish consisting of vegetables, pasta, salami, and cheese, sitting atop a bed of romaine lettuce and either called it “salad” or “pasta”. The first stood for a healthy choice, the second for a calorie-laden behemoth.
If the dish was called “pasta”, people on a weight loss diet rated it less healthy.
In another study, dieters and non-dieters were given what were supposedly two product samples, labeled as either “fruit chews” or “candy chews”. With the unhealthy name (“candy chews”), dieters perceived it as less healthy and less tasty than non-dieters. And consumed more of the product if it was named “fruit chews”.
How To Avoid These Pitfalls?
The question is: How can we avoid being so misled, when restaurants and food manufacturers increasingly use this tactic? We can’t just turn off an organizational system that normally is quite useful to us. Should we analyze ingredient lists? In some cases that’s hard to do.
Picture courtesy of “jeffreyw“.