The halo effect: cognitive bias or statistical learning in disguise?

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Abstract

Why do people perceive organic foods as healthier than conventional foods when in fact there is no evidence for this belief? This organic = health heuristic has so far been explained in terms of a halo effect which implies that positive attitudes towards an object spread to all associated attributes. However, this heuristic may actually be meaningful when applied in the real world rather than in the laboratory. We test this prediction in four studies: a field study, two online surveys and an eye-tracking study. Our findings show that: a) a true correlation exists in the environment between organic food prevalence and less processed food categories, as shown in the field study; b) people are familiar with this statistical structure which is reflected in a highly accurate perception of organic prevalence across food categories; c) positive attitudes towards organic foods do not spread to all attributes as implied by the halo effect; d) manipulating the correlation between organic and health information in an eye tracking experiment leads people to rely more on organic information when judging food healthiness. Put differently, it is possible to experimentally reproduce statistical learning by manipulating the correlation between organic and health information which is observable as an increase in attention to organic cues when judging food healthiness. Our findings imply that decision makers are capable of learning the statistical structure of environment and applying this correctly in the form of a decision heuristic such as the organic = health heuristic. While there may still be merits to the idea of a halo effect, we conclude that the organic = health heuristic is better explained as statistical learning.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventThe 35th Annual Meeting of the European Group of Process Tracing Studies - Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, Bonn, Germany
Duration: 23 Jun 201626 Jun 2016
http://eadm.eu/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/EGPROC-Programmheft-2016-final.pdf

Conference

ConferenceThe 35th Annual Meeting of the European Group of Process Tracing Studies
LocationMax Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods
Country/TerritoryGermany
CityBonn
Period23/06/201626/06/2016
Internet address

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