Study finds organic food is considered healthier and tastier even when it’s not.
Researchers have found that labelling something organic tricks the brain into thinking it is better tasting and more healthy even when there is no difference.
The so-called “halo effect” can actually lead to people eating more of the organic food than the inorganic and could actually be detrimental to health.
Psychologists have long recognised the “halo effect” in humans with one positive attribute making people enhance others even if they are not deserved.
An example is that an attractive person is seen as intelligent just because he or she is good-looking.
Now scientists believe that the same idea could apply to food labelling such as organic.
Jenny Wan-Chen Lee, a graduate student in Cornell University, in New York, said research has shown that people tend to consume more calories at fast-food restaurants claiming to serve “healthier” foods, compared to the amount they eat at a typical burger bar.
She asked 144 subjects at the local shopping centre to compare what they thought were conventionally and organically produced chocolate sandwich cookies, plain yogurt, and potato crisps.
All of the products, however, were actually of the organic variety – they were just labelled as being “regular” or “organic.”
Participants were then asked to rate each food for 10 different attributes (e.g., overall taste, perception of fat content) using a scale from 1 to 9.
She also asked them to estimate the number of calories in each food item.
She found that on average people rated the organic labelled a full mark up the scale when it came to health. They also considered it contained on average 60 calories lower.
The findings were reported at the American Society for Nutrition annual conference.