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The role of causal models and beliefs in interpreting health claims

Banks, Adrian P., Egan, Bernadette, Hodgkins, Charo E., Peacock, Matthew and Raats, Monique M. (2018) The role of causal models and beliefs in interpreting health claims British Journal of Health Psychology, 23 (4). pp. 933-948.

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Objective: Health claims on food packaging are regulated to inform and protect consumers, however many consumers do not accurately interpret the meaning of the claims. Whilst research has shown different types of misinterpretation, it is not clear how those interpretations are formed. The aim of this study is to elicit the causal beliefs and causal models about food and health held by consumers, i.e. their understanding of the causal relationships between nutrients, health outcomes and the causal pathways connecting them, and investigate how well this knowledge explains the variation in inferences they draw about health benefits from health claims.

Method: 400 participants from Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Slovenia, and the UK were presented with 7 authorised health claims and drew inferences about the health benefits of consuming nutrients specified in the claim. Then their personal causal models of health were elicited along with their belief in the truth and familiarity with the claims.

Results: The strength of inferences about health benefits that participants drew from the claims were predicted independently by the strength of the relevant causal pathways within the causal model, and belief in the truth of the claim, but not familiarity with the claim. Participants drew inferences about overall health benefits of the nutrients by extrapolating from their causal models of health.

Conclusion: Consumers’ interpretation of claims is associated with their belief in the claim and their causal models of health. This prior knowledge is used to interpret the claim and draw inferences about overall health benefits that go beyond the information in the claim. Therefore efforts to improve consumers’ understanding and interpretation of health claims must address both their wider causal models of health and their knowledge of specific claims.

Item Type: Article
Divisions : Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences > School of Psychology
Authors :
Banks, Adrian
Hodgkins, Charo
Raats, Monique
Date : 1 November 2018
Funders : European Union Seventh Framework Programme
DOI : 10.1111/bjhp.12330
Grant Title : the CLYMBOL project Role of Health-Related Claims and Symbols in Consumer Behaviour
Copyright Disclaimer : © 2018 The British Psychological Society. This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Banks, A. P., Egan, B. , Hodgkins, C. E., Peacock, M. and Raats, M. M. (2018), The role of causal models and beliefs in interpreting health claims. Br J Health Psychol, 23: 933-948, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving
Uncontrolled Keywords : Causal reasoning; Causal models; Health claims; Food; Heart health; Network analysis
Depositing User : Clive Harris
Date Deposited : 19 Jun 2018 14:10
Last Modified : 20 Jun 2019 09:57

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