Published in Public Understanding of Science, the Cornell Food and Brand Lab study found trivial graphs or formulas accompanying medical information can lead consumers to believe products are more effective.
“Your faith in science may actually make you more likely to trust information that appears scientific but really doesn’t tell you much,” said lead author Aner Tal, post-doctoral researcher at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. “Anything that looks scientific can make information you read a lot more convincing.”
The study showed that when a graph with no new information was added to the description of a medication, 96.6 percent of people believed that the medicines were effective in reducing illness verses 67.7 percent of people who were shown the product information without the graph.
“Even those with professed faith in science were more likely to be swayed by trivial scientific looking product information,” said Tal. “In fact, the more people believed in science, the more they were convinced by the graphs. What this means is that when you read claims about new products, whether it’s a medication or a new technology, you should ask yourself, ‘where does this information come from?’, ‘what’s the basis for the claims being made?’ Don’t let things that look scientific but don’t really tell you much fool you. Sometimes a graph is just a graph!”