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Why Do People Like Natural? Instrumental and Ideational Bases for the Naturalness Preference


  • This research was supported by NSF grant SBE-0624098 awarded to the second author. Study 1 was presented at the 2008 Annual Conference for the Society of Psychological Science, Chicago, IL. We thank Chuanxi Xu for help on response coding in Study 3.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Meng Li, Department of Health and Behavioral Sciences, University of Colorado Denver, 1201 5th Street, Suite 280G, P.O. Box 173364, CB 188, Denver, CO 80217-3364. E-mail:


Naturalness preference refers to the tendency to prefer natural things to otherwise equivalent unnatural alternatives. Previous research suggests that the naturalness preference is largely due to ideational reasons (moral or aesthetic appeals), rather than instrumental reasons (inferred functional superiority), because the natural and unnatural alternatives were specified as identical. The current studies showed that people do not always believe that natural and unnatural alternatives can be identical. Responses that in previous studies would have been interpreted as ideational-based naturalness preference were correlated with beliefs in instrumental advantages of natural products. We propose that instrumental and ideational reasons are closely connected, and instrumental beliefs may contribute to the “natural is better” heuristic. The financial consequence of naturalness preference was also demonstrated.