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© 2015 The Authors. Recent studies report that using green labels to denote healthier foods, and red to denote less healthy foods increases consumption of green- and decreases consumption of red-labelled foods. Other symbols (e.g. emoticons conveying normative approval and disapproval) could also be used to signal the healthiness and/or acceptability of consuming such products. The present study tested the combined effects of using emoticons and colours on labels amongst a nationally representative sample of the UK population (n = 955). In a 3 (emoticon expression: smiling vs. frowning vs. no emoticon) × 3 (colour label: green vs. red vs. white) ×2 (food option: chocolate bar vs. cereal bar) between-subjects experiment, participants rated the level of desirability, healthiness, tastiness, and calorific content of a snack bar they had been randomised to view. At the end they were further randomised to view one of nine possible combinations of colour and emoticon labels and asked to choose between a chocolate and a cereal bar. Regardless of label, participants rated the chocolate as tastier and more desirable when compared to the cereal bar, and the cereal bar as healthier than the chocolate bar. A series of interactions revealed that a frowning emoticon on a white background decreased perceptions of healthiness and tastiness of the cereal bar, but not the chocolate bar. In the explicit choice task selection was unaffected by label. Overall nutritional labels had limited effects on perceptions and no effects on choice of snack foods. Emoticon labels yielded stronger effects on perceptions of taste and healthiness of snacks than colour labels. Frowning emoticons may be more potent than smiling emoticons at influencing the perceived healthiness and tastiness of foods carrying health halos.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





56 - 63