The proliferation of reduced-fat cookies and other quasi-healthy-sounding snacks has had a perverse result: Many people relax their guard around such food, eat more, and so wind up packing on pounds. The phenomenon is common enough to have a name: the Snackwell's effect, after a popular brand of Nabisco cookies aimed at health-conscious consumers.
In its current issue, Consumer Reports notes a similar effect in the arena of energy conservation. A 2008 study by the University of Michigan economist Lucas Davis, for example, found that people who owned energy-efficient washing machines did more loads of laundry than people who owned conventional machines -- in some cases canceling out the advantages of the new technology. Similarly, a different study, by a group called the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, found that consumers waste 5 to 15 percent of the potential energy savings of compact fluorescent lightbulbs. These consumers conscientiously adopt green technology -- then start leaving more lights on.
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.