Food ingredients with hard-to-pronounce names are perceived as scarier

Patrick sez, "I'm a neuroscientist and I've written up in lay-speak a really fascinating little study I came across recently.

The gist of the research was thus: people were presented with the names of fictional chemical food additives and asked to judge which ones they thought were more "dangerous"

What they found was that the harder it was to pronounce, the riskier it was perceived.

The results tell us a lot about how we make decisions with very little information - we love things that are familiar, even if it's just fake-familiarity from being easier to pronounce."

They demonstrated that we tend to rate things that are hard to pronounce as more risky than things that are easy to pronounce. In this case the easier to pronounce chemical seemed less dangerous than the harder to pronounce one. At first glance this sounds rather silly, but a great example of this in the real world is a drug you have almost certainly taken before: N-acetyl-p-aminophenol.

This sounds like something you’d varnish a table with while wearing a facemask and gloves. It’s definitely hard to pronounce and it sounds way too dangerous to ask people to swallow it. Instead, you probably know this drug as Acetaminophen. That’s still kind of hard to pronounce though, so the pharmaceutical companies gave it the even easier and friendlier name of Tylenol.

Dangerous words

If It's Difficult to Pronounce, It Must Be Risky: Fluency, Familiarity, and Risk Perception

(Thanks, Patrick!)