The psychology of naturalness
It's as much about processing as ingredients
Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash
It’s fair to say that natural products are worth more than ‘non-natural’, ‘artificial’ or ‘processed’ alternatives, particularly in food. But what does ‘natural’ actually mean to someone at a supermarket shelf having to make a decision between different options?
While naturalness is important and attractive, it can be difficult to define. We can look at the ‘instrumental reasons’, that is the pragmatic, demonstrable reasons why it is inherently better - maybe it is healthier for us or kinder to the environment. However, things are not that simple. Studies suggest when consumers’ instrumental reasons for preferring a natural item have been satisfied, (by offering an option that is chemically identical but involving more processing), then we are less likely to consider it natural.
Psychologist Paul Rozin presented people with different levels of processing of a tomato paste and asked them to judge the naturalness.
Original: Tomato paste
Once-transformed: A combination of tomato paste and water
Twice-transformed: The tomato paste that was combined with water, and then has the water removed. The paste is now identical to the original
The ‘twice-transformed’ tomato paste was not only considered less natural than the ‘once-transformed’ item but also less natural than the original – despite being identical in substance.
With this experiment we can see that naturalness is not as straightforward (or instrumental) as we might have thought. If this product has a natural ‘essence’ in the eyes of the consumer, it seems as if it should be as unaltered as possible by human involvement - people processes appear to be a ‘contaminating’ force. Perceptions of processing rather than the substance of the item are key determinant of whether we view something as natural, explaining why two apparently identical products may be viewed very differently.
These findings are not new but often seem overlooked. The lesson surely for brands is to be aware that naturalness credentials are not based entirely on the substance of the product but also on the manufacturing process. These perceptions need addressing just as much, if not more, than the ingredients that are used.
Protest culture and financial services
Two terms that are not typically heard in the same sentence, Ryan Garner suggests that protest culture is increasingly shaping the Financial Services agenda. He points out the way that financial services are key to creating systemic change because money can be re-routed, this impacting investment, growth and prosperity. One of the most recent examples he cites is Greenwood, a new digital bank by Killer Mike (real name Michael Render).
Render is a musician and an influential activist in the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. According to Render, black people are twice as likely to be refused a mortgage and so a new banking platform is required to create social and economic justice. As a result, the bank has had ‘tens of thousands’ of account requests in less than 24 hours.
Ryan’s newsletter on humanising business and technology is always a recommended read.
Picture of the week: Luca Locatelli’s Future Studies project, visualises research into new ways for our future survival on the planet, and how to deal with the enormous environmental problems we face.
Interesting article here about the way that “Internet-trained models have internet-scale biases” and suggesting that chatbots which are trustworthy in specific domains will likely need to be limited to rules based models.
Are we living in a period of unprecedented economic and technological acceleration, or is there, as Danny Dorling, Professor of Geography at Oxford University suggests, an argument that instead we are in a period of deceleration? Review of his book here.
Interesting case made here that one of the less talked about side effects of the Covid-19 pandemic is the proliferation of QR codes. After years of unfulfilled promise, the code has found a use as a window to track and trace systems and digital restaurant menus, enabled by a public more comfortable than ever using their smartphones as enabling devices.
Reads and views
Just how do we change is a topic which is the focus for much of our work at Ipsos. Agnes Callard wrote about how we as individuals change – and the differences between ambition and aspiration. Paul Millerd wrote a great review of the book here.
The artists of this week’s picture, Luca Locatelli suggests that “One of the characteristic symptoms of the times we are living in is the growing feeling that we are losing the vision of a better future, of a promising, yet unknown, hypothetical tomorrow...We can consider what our behaviour should look like in the future, where efforts should be made to re-establish a healthy relationship with nature and the planet.”