The Halo Effect of Word Choice

Apropos to my recent posts on Eyes Wide Open and the General Mills privacy policy fiasco, I wanted to share the direct reference to a study on this subject that is often referred across the Internet.

In 2011, Cornell University graduate student Jenny Wan-chen Lee set out to study the effects of labeling on consumers’ perceptions, what psychologists refer to as the “halo effect.” The results of her study pointed to the significant effect that word choice can have on consumer preferences.

Lee recruited 144 people at a local mall for a taste test of cookies, yogurt, and potato chips. Each food type was presented in two packages, one labeled “organic” and the other “conventional,” though in reality there was no difference between them.

Not only did the participants prefer the taste of the “organic” products over the “conventional,” they also believed they were healthier choices, and they were willing to pay up to 23% more for them.

No doubt this goes a long way in explaining the rise in lawsuits over food labeling that we’re now seeing.

If you’re interested in how the halo effect plays itself out with other food choices, here’s a concise, well-researched overview that I found helpful.