While watching television this past weekend I saw a commercial for Mountain Dew promoting “electrolytes” as now being included in their Kick Start soft drink. Admittedly, I first chuckled at this notion as I thought back to the 2006 movie “Idiocracy” where people in the future longed for electrolytes, even though they didn’t quite know what they were – but then it got me thinking about the general idea of critical thinking, and how we sometimes fail at such an important skill. In the case of Mountain Dew, should we now buy more of it since it now includes electrolytes? Critical thinking helps us better understand this question, and can be applied quite easily in this example:
- What are electrolytes?
- What do electrolytes actually do?
- How many electrolytes does the body need each day?
- Are electrolytes dangerous if we get too many of them in a given day?
If you don’t have the answers to the questions posed above then you really shouldn’t be impacted at all by the inclusion of electrolytes to Mountain Dew. Unfortunately, many people bypass critical thinking questions and simply assume if something is advertised, it must be good to use.
Ask powerful questions
There are many other products we see each day and simply assume the value/efficacy of the product is good — only because we are told so. For example, the next time you go to the grocery store take notice of all the organic products now available. Yes, they’re quite a bit more expensive, but is a tomato grown organically any better or safer than another tomato grown the old way? Of course, we are told to think organic is better, but aside from higher costs does the science really show statistically significant differences between “regular” and organic tomatoes?
Another similar discussion can evolve around bottled water – yes, we have been told for quite some time now that bottled water A) tastes better, and B) is healthier for us, yet no scientific study I have seen to date supports these claims. The reality is you will pay a lot more for bottled water, but the tap water in your house is probably similar in taste and just as safe.
Personally speaking, I really don’t know how many electrolytes I should be getting each day, nor am I aware of any dangerous complications should I decide to take a weekend and binge drink large amounts of Mountain Dew. I do know, however, that if I ever seriously consider drinking Mountain Dew because of its purported claims of now including “electrolytes,” I will be sure to do my homework to see if it’s really a big deal. Remember, just because people (companies) tell us something doesn’t make it true, and simply because products become more expensive and exclusive doesn’t make them any better for us.
Often we use heuristics, or mental shortcuts, to help us navigate through our daily decisions — especially in times where we aren’t familiar with something. While heuristics can be very helpful at times, we can also get caught up in assumptions that simply aren’t true (for example, if something is expensive we typically assume it’s also “good,” but critical thinking shows us this is simply not always true).