If you’re like most people, you probably think more expensive wine tastes better, regardless of whether it’s actually a better wine or not.
People who were given sips of wines with fake prices said they preferred the wines they thought were more expensive to the ones they thought were cheaper about 80 percent of the time, according to new research.
Researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the California Institute of Technology found that because people expect wines that cost more to be of higher quality, they trick themselves into believing the wines provide a more pleasurable experience than less expensive ones.
The experiment helps explain how marketing practices can influence both the preferences of consumers and the enjoyment registered by their brains, said Antonio Rengel, one of the study’s authors.
“The lesson is a very deep one, not only about marketing but about the human experience,” said Rangel. “This study shows that the expectations that we bring to the experience affect the experience itself.”
This study suggests that expectations of quality trigger activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain that registers pleasure. This happens even though the part of our brain that interprets taste is not affected.
The researchers said that when 20 adult test subjects sampled the same wine at different prices, they reported experiencing pleasure at significantly greater levels when told the wine cost more. At the same time, the part of the brain responsible for pleasure showed significant activity.
“We have known for a long time that people’s perceptions are affected by marketing, but now we know that the brain itself is modulated by price,” said Baba Shiv, an associate professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and one of the authors of the study.
“Marketers are now going to think twice about reducing the price,” Shiv said.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.