Sometimes a study comes along that announces a conclusion s0
But these kinds of studies present a personality test of sorts, don't they?
After your initial confusion, what do you conclude when you read a research finding that contradicts your expectations?
1. Hmm, interesting result. Maybe what I previously thought about this subject might be inaccurate! (Flexible, open-minded personality type).
2. That's a silly conclusion! There must be something wrong with this study. (Stubborn skeptical type).
3. There is something wrong with every single study ever conducted! I don't believe anything science ever came up with. Now let me get back to my TV program, the little people in the box in my living room are waiting for me. (Nutball type).
I am, not surprisingly, a Type 2 personality--a Stubborn Skeptic.
I have discovered, though, that there is a problem with being a Stubborn Skeptic and having a health blog, especially if you are a Cheapskate Stubborn Skeptic. Because my first reaction on seeing a study with a ridiculous result is to want to poke holes in the study's methodology. But often I can't actually read the study's methodology because you have to either be in academia or pay to get to it.
Pay? That's so not happening.
So instead, I have to work off a summary that gives little more than the conclusion. I have to just speculate as to why it was a dumb study! (Cue sad, sad, violin music.) (And actually, in this case, I'm not sure the study has even been published yet. But everyone else already reported on it last week, like the obviously gullible New York Times--because apparently not all health reporters are Stubbornly Skeptical they don't feel the need like I do to shred studies they do not like into bite-sized little pieces).
So help me out here, does this study on how offering salads affects restaurant menu choices sound like crazy talk to you guys too?
The study claims that offering healthy options on a restaurant menu "can induce some diners to eat less healthily than they otherwise would." More specifically, it says that diners were more likely to order french fries off a menu that had a salad than a menu that didn't include a salad as an option.
Wait... you see a salad on the menu, and even though you weren't going to order french fries, now you decide you need french fries?
Who are these people?
Here's all I could get on the methodology:
"In one study, college students were given one of two menus. One menu featured French fries, chicken nuggets and a baked potato; the other included those same items as well as a salad. The French fries, widely perceived as the least healthful option, were three times as popular with students selecting from the menu that had the salad as they were with the other group."
And here's the researchers' explanation:
“When you consider the healthy option, you say, well, I could have that option... That lowers your guard, leading to self-indulgent behavior.”
So people are giving themselves credit for looking at the word "salad," and they feel like having seen reference to green leafy things, they now deserve a French fry reward?
Another totally weird result? "The diners most affected by the presence of a healthful item were those with the highest levels of self-control, as measured by a widely used test."
OK, so people with more self control are even more likely to translate the innocent word "salad" into a subliminal command: eat deep-fried potatoes?
This really is nutty.
Of course I totally get why people might not want to order the salad. Salads at places with limited junky menus tend to be terrible. They have iceberg lettuce that tastes like preservatives, limp pieces of carrot, shredded cabbage that's usually a bit brown around the edges, nasty dressing, and, if you're lucky, a couple of unripe cherry tomatoes.
But why would considering, but not ordering, this sad little salad make you want to ask for fries you were otherwise going to pass up? To me, saying "no" to even a crappy salad would make me feel guilty. This guilt would make me LESS likely to order fries, not more.
This study result is so completely contrary to how my brain operates that I refuse to believe other people could be so weird.
So with absolutely no information at all about how they conducted this study, I'll take some wild-ass guesses as to what's going on.
A few possibilities:
1. The study did not have a lot of funding and was done on a tiny group of undergraduate psychology students forced to be experimental subjects as a course requirement. They were offered fake-looking restaurant menus featuring a weird hypothetical choices of foods, and knew researchers were watching them. In deciding how to best screw up the results, the non-salad people had less clue what the study was even about, so they picked what they normally would order. The people with salad on the menu, however, guessed that the study had something to do with healthy restaurant choices. They knew to say "screw that" and chose French fries even if they didn't even want French fries.
2. Baruch College, where the experiment apparently took place, must have an unusally high percentage of students who were traumatized by produce at a tender age. When confronted with salads, post-traumatic vegetable syndrome induced these studentsto reach for french fries, a known comfort food.
3. Crabby McSlacker sometimes tends to overgeneralize and believes everyone thinks the way she does. Sometimes this is not actually true!
4. People are crazy.
What do you guys think, is Number 3 the most likely option? Does this result make any sense to you? Perhaps you have a better explanation for what's going on?