An "organic" label on foods is enough to make people believe the food items are healthier and tastier, recent research suggests.

Jenny Wan-chen Lee, a graduate student in Cornell University's Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, conducted the study to test the theory that people are influenced by what is described as "the halo effect." In this case, the researchers set out to see if the "health halo"—the perception that an item that is labeled "organic" is therefore nutritious—would lead people to believe that the "organic" foods tasted better.

Study Details

The study included 144 volunteers who were asked to compare what they believed were conventionally and organically produced chocolate sandwich cookies, plain yogurt and potato chips. All of the products were actually organic, but they were labeled as either "regular" or "organic."

The participants used a scale of 1 to 9 to rate each of the products on 10 attributes, such as overall taste and perception of fat content. They were also asked to estimate the number of calories in each food item and how much they would be willing to pay for each product.

The investigators found that participants preferred almost all of the taste characteristics of the foods labeled as "organic," even though they were identical to those labeled as "regular."

The food items with "organic" labels were also perceived as being lower in fat, higher in fiber, significantly lower in calories and worth more money, according to study author Lee. In addition, chips and cookies labeled "organic" were judged to be more nutritious than those believed to be nonorganic.

The study was presented at the Experimental Biology annual meeting, in Wastington, DC.

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