Before You Try A TikTok Wellness Trend, Here's What You Should Know About Ostrich Effect

June 21, 2021

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Toward the beginning of 2021, a wellness trend known as ‘dry scooping’ took over TikTok. 

The challenge? Eat a scoop of energy powder to help maximize the effects of the pre-workout energy powder for a more intense burst of energy.

Fitness TikTokers across the app began posting videos about the powerful effects of dry scooping, with the hashtag #dryscoopingchallenge resulting in more than 32k TikTok views to date.

This seemingly innocent trend, however, caused one healthy, 20-year-old TikToker, @Brivtny, to suffer a heart attack and need hospital care as a result. Others can be seen in videos spitting out the powder or reporting inability to breathe.

Experts like Dr. Joy Gelbman, a cardiologist at Weill Cornnel Medicine and New York-Presbyterian warn of the dangers of dry scooping. Dr. Gelblman states, “If you take a big shot of caffeine like that, in addition to any other caffeine you’re drinking in your normal daily habits, it can spike the blood pressure or the heart rate or lead to heart rhythm disturbances, which can be pretty dangerous to an otherwise young, healthy person.” The National Capital Poison Center also advises against dry scooping, linking it with heart and breathing problems, choking, dizziness, tremors and chest pain.

And yet, despite warnings by the scientific community, the videos of positive dry scooping success stories still outweigh the negatives. Though the specific reason remains unclear, a certain cognitive bias, known as the Ostrich Effect, may play a larger-than-average factor in this skewed reporting scandal.

What Is The Ostrich Effect?

The Ostrich Effect is a cognitive bias that causes people to avoid information they perceive to be potentially unpleasant. It was named the “Ostrich Effect” to emulate the ostrich’s response to danger by burying their heads in the sand.

According to Effectviology, manifestations of the Ostrich Effect include, 

  • Forgetting or not paying attention to unpleasant information 
  • Physically avoiding magazines, sites, radio channels, or TV shows that do not align with one’s  perspective 
  • Preferring sources that are biased toward one’s personal experience 

The Ostrich Effect often looks like avoiding new information that could be beneficial for growth for fear of loss, pain, or change. It’s why we become friends with people who are similar to us, follow news stations that mimic our political beliefs, and avoid doctor’s appointments which could tell us things we don’t want to hear, even if the appointment could result in important, preventative care and treatment. 

In terms of the wellness industry, it’s also why we may see false positive reporting and success responses that are either inaccurate or completely untrue. 

The Prevalence of False Positive Reporting In The Wellness Industry

While the wellness industry may seem unique in its oversaturation of inaccurate information (check out the podcast Poog, which pokes fun at the ‘trillion-dollar industry full of scams and snake oil salesmen’), it makes sense in terms of how our brains are naturally wired.

Humans are notoriously short-sighted (which is why we’re better off setting micro goals), and it’s natural for us to gravitate toward easy lifestyle changes like dry scooping, diet pills, or vinegar water that are supposed to make us feel better, compared to incremental changes overtime that involve hard work and dedication.

When these quick wellness fixes fail, the majority of people are unlikely to share that information given our avoidance of things deemed unpleasant or painful. We do not like to admit failure, even if that failure has more to do with the trend than with our ability to actually change. 

This is why the minority of successes become the majority of information available, skewing online resources toward inaccurate success rates that set others up for disappointment when their results differ from the ‘majority’ that they see. 

And in the case of dry scooping, this skewed coverage can have dangerous, possibly life-threatening results.   

Gaining Balanced Coverage

Gaining balanced coverage in the wellness industry is easier said than done, given our preference to trust people who saw results rather than those who did not. However, there are some debiasing techniques that may help.

  • Create emotional and psychological distance from a ‘preferred’ outcome or experience 
  • Expand  your sources to include a more diverse range of thoughts and experiences
  • Think critically about any bias of the person creating the content, TikTok, or thought piece

In terms of the wellness industry, that means reading honest reviews of products (from one-star to five-star) prior to buying a product, searching the Internet for scientific, expert opinions, and carefully curating the content that you consume. 

In a world of false positive reporting and beautiful branding, it’s easy to get sucked into a trend or a product without investigating possible side-effects and negative results. Next time you see a TikTok wellness creator sharing the latest and greatest wellness trend, research it before giving it a try. That discernment process may very well save your life. 

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Photo: Leninscape via Pixabay

Dana Drosdick
Dana is a marketer living in Saratoga Springs, NY with a passion for all things related to stewardship, faith, wellness, and personal enrichment. Her work has been featured in various Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, The Odyssey Online, and The Banner Magazine. Follow her at @danadrosdick on Instagram for foodie trends, her latest book recommendations, and far too many photos of clementines.

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