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The study, forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Research, is the latest evidence that your brain may work against you when it comes to choosing healthy foods. Researchers say our subconscious association of cost with health — what they call the “healthy = expensive intuition” — can prompt shoppers to not only spend more money but also to make uninformed health decisions without realizing it.

“We often ask how consumers process information about what they should eat,” said Kelly Haws, a processor of marketing at Vanderbilt University and a co-author of the new paper. “The truth is, we give them a ton of information — and they don’t process it all.”

Haws and other researchers in the realm of behavioral economics have a name for this phenomenon: It’s called heuristics, and it basically describes any sort of mental shortcut that we use to simplify decisions. Instead of consciously evaluating all of the information we have about a product — its calorie count, its ingredients, its brand, its location in the store — our brains rely on simple assumptions, such as the belief that healthy foods always cost more.

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