Let’s Face It: Assessing the Welfare Effects of Calorie Labelling Using Automatic Facial Coding

Posted: 25 Feb 2021 Last revised: 10 May 2021

See all articles by Kate Laffan

Kate Laffan

University College Dublin

Cass R. Sunstein

Harvard Law School; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Paul Dolan

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)

Date Written: December 16, 2020

Abstract

Although there has been a proliferation of research and policy work into how nudges shape people’s behaviour, most studies stop far short of welfare analysis. In the current work, we critically reflect on recent efforts to proxy the welfare impact of nudges using willingness to pay and subjective wellbeing reports and explore an alternative unobtrusive approach: automatic facial expression coding. In an exploratory lab study, we use facial expression coding to assess the short-run emotional impacts of being presented with calorie information about a popcorn snack in the context of a stylized ‘Cinema experience’. The results of the study indicate that calorie information has heterogeneous impacts on people’s likelihood of choosing the snack and on the emotions they experience during the moment of choice which varies based on their level of health consciousness. The information does not, however, affect the emotions people go on to experience while viewing movie clips, suggesting that the emotional effects of the information are short-lived. We conclude by emphasising the potential of automatic facial expression coding to provide new insights into the short-run welfare effects of nudges and calling for further research into this promising technique.

Keywords: Nudging, Welfare, Automatic Facial coding, Calorie information

JEL Classification: I30, I12, C88, C91

Suggested Citation

Laffan, Kate and Sunstein, Cass R. and Dolan, Paul, Let’s Face It: Assessing the Welfare Effects of Calorie Labelling Using Automatic Facial Coding (December 16, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3749972

Kate Laffan (Contact Author)

University College Dublin ( email )

Belfield
Dublin
Ireland

Cass R. Sunstein

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts Ave
Areeda Hall 225
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-2291 (Phone)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Paul Dolan

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

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