On June 13, 1966, Miranda v. Arizona was decided by the United States Supreme Court. And, television changed forever. Since that date, American police dramas have used the line: You have the right to remain silent…as the universal mechanism for signalling that the police have got their man.
Miranda was a 5-4 decision. It was a controversial decision. Law enforcement officials denounced Miranda as undermining the efficiency of the police and warned that it would contribute to an increase in crime.
But, in practice, Miranda had no such effect. Instead, reading suspects their Miranda warnings lent a sense of legitimacy to subsequent police questioning. And, rather than assert their rights, suspects routinely waived them and made statements against their own interests.
Also in 1966, the United States government mandated that all cigarette packages display the warning, Caution: Cigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health. Since then, warning labels on cigarettes have grown larger and become more explicit. With these labels from Australia likely winning the prize for greatest shock value. Yet, despite these warnings, smoking is not a marginalized business. Worldwide, 5,763 billion cigarettes are sold annually, which works out to about 15 billion daily, and roughly 10 million per minute.
In chapter 1 of his book buy-OLOGY, Martin Lindstrom discusses studies in the new field of neuromarketing. In these studies, brain activity is monitored and recorded as consumers are exposed to products, brands, advertisements, and in one study cigarette warning labels. For this particular study, smokers were asked to complete a questionnaire about cigarette warnings. Unsurprisingly, smokers indicated that they felt that warning labels had a deterrent effect, causing them to smoke less. Next, the same volunteers underwent MRI scanning. During their brain scans, images of cigarette warnings were presented to the volunteers. The results…cigarette warnings did nothing to decrease activity in the areas of the brain associated with cravings. Rather, the results showed that exposure to the warning labels actually stimulated activity in the nucleus accumbens, affectionately known as the craving spot. In the end, these results indicated that cigarette warning labels do nothing to deter smoking, instead they tend to instigate cravings for cigarettes.
In the United States, pursuant to the 1990 Nutrition Labelling and Education Act, the now ubiquitous nutrition facts label was mandated for most food products. It seems apparent enough that over the last 20 years nutrition facts labels have done nothing to deter folks from eating non-nutritious foods. My hypothesis is that like Miranda and tobacco warnings, nutrition facts labels tend to legitimize food products and to stimulate cravings for them.
For example, without the nutrition facts label, you know that ice cream is not a healthy snack. If, while strolling through the grocery store, you innocently pick up a carton of ice cream to read the nutrition facts label and see how bad it really is, then any latent craving for ice cream is going to spring to life and become a strong force in subsequent decision making. At this point, the probability of buying a carton of ice cream has dramatically increased. You may not buy the first carton of ice cream that you picked up, but the search for a carton with more appealing numbers on its nutrition facts label has likely started. In the end, you may go home with frozen yogurt instead of ice cream, but the probability that you are going home with some sort of frozen treat is nearly inevitable. Which may be why, grocery stores and the manufacturers of food products are always exhorting you to compare labels. Once you start comparing labels, the question of whether you will buy something or not is likely settled, now it is only a question of what you will buy.
The best comment I have read on this topic is that you should not buy food products that come in packages and require a nutrition facts label. Other than that annoying sticker, there is not much to read on the side of an apple. On a more practical note, if you are undecided about whether you actually want to buy a food product or not, make up your mind before you pick it up and read the label, because once you pick it up, not buying is no longer an option.
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