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Health Psychol. 1996 Nov;15(6):438-47.

Lay American conceptions of nutrition: dose insensitivity, categorical thinking, contagion, and the monotonic mind.

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Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia 19104-6196, USA.


Two studies explored Americans' tendency to simplify nutrition information. Substantial minorities of separate samples of college students, physical plant workers, and a national sample considered a variety of substances, including some essential nutrients (salt and fat), to be harmful at trace levels. Almost half the respondents believed that high-calorie foods in small amounts contain more calories than low-calorie foods in much larger amounts. Many subjects classified foods according to a good/bad dichotomy, and almost all subjects confounded nutritional completeness with long-term healthfulness of foods. To account for these results, we suggest the following heuristics and biases: dose insensitivity, categorical perception, a "monotonic mind" belief (if something is harmful at high levels then it is harmful at low levels), and the magical principle of contagion.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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