halo effectThe halo effect is in play whenever you see a person with a pocket protector and thick glasses and assume he's intelligent. It's a common human judgment error to presume that certain characteristics go together; blondes and joie d' vivre, tans and athleticism, dreadlocks and a fondness for jam-band music.

A researcher at the Cornell, Jenny Wan-chen Lee, and colleagues recently tested the halo effect on food that is labeled "organic". She conducted a double-blind study, feeding the same ice cream, yogurt or potato chips to test subjects, telling half that the food was organic, telling the other half that it was conventionally produced.

The guinea pigs preferred, by a wide margin, the foods they thought were made organically. They also believed these foods had less calories, less fat and more fiber. They also assumed the organics would cost more.Lee concluded that the halo hovering over the term organic was both strong and consistent.

Her finding were consistent with other studies that have found that people underestimate the calorie load of foods sold in restaurants that promote their healthy menus. In other words, the halo effect can be bought at the price of a successful ad campaign. But that must come as no surprise to executives at companies like Subway.

The key point here? The label "organic" doesn't automatically mean that the food is more delicious or nutritious or even better for the environment. It is, however, probably more expensive.

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