Does paying more make us think it is better?

You may have seen the news about research using scans of brain waves to show that the same wine seems better to the taster when it is believed to cost more.

Prof Rangel used functional magnetic resonance imaging to observe the brains of 20 people as they were given the same Cabernet Sauvignon and told it cost anything from £2.50 to £45 a bottle.

Most described the “higher-priced” wine as much more enjoyable.

The theory behind this is that paying more will make us think that we are getting some better, when that isn’t always the truth. I wonder if they would do a similar study focusing on the bargain shoppers. You know the people that get a thrill for high quality at a cheap price. I think that describes me some of the time.

When I would go shopping for wine at Surdyk’s in Minneapolis I would look at the ads for wines that were a bigger percentage discount or rated a steal at this price. Now I know I have a sweet tooth, so I will stay away from the drier wines. Ultimately it comes down to taste, and some of the ones I like are Obsession Symphony by Ironstone, Reds by Laurel Glen, White Merlot by Forest Glen, and Marechal Foch. It really comes down to what you like.

So as a bargain shopped in the wine world, would my brain scan for greater pleasure if I was told a $12 wine was a great steal, rather than a very good $45 wine that really was the same one.

This whole idea that expensive makes a difference or equals better has shown up in the expensive cable scam as Don Lindich wrote in his column,

If you expect to hear or see a difference, you probably will. It’s a psychological thing.

This same issue probably explains Monster Cables very high satisfaction rating as reported on Roger Russell’s web site.

Needless to say there was a strong letter to the editor in the October Stereo Review from Noel Lee, President of Monster Cable. “…was not the conclusion of nearly three thousand Monster Cable purchasers who participated in a warranty/response card survey in 1981-1982. Among those responding, 56 per cent indicated ‘an overall significant improvement, ’42 per cent attested to a ‘noticeable improvement,’ and only 2 per cent wrote back that they heard no difference in system performance.”…

So it would be interesting to control for the bargain lovers and see if we get more pleasure out of the deal rather than the finer things in life.

– Josh



  1. Cannonball said,

    January 23, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    I sure think it works on me. I never buy my wine at places that offer to do brain scans though. I can just tell they are going to give me a cheap wine in an expensive bottle!

  2. endtheecho said,

    January 23, 2008 at 11:43 pm

    Excellent point Cannonball. If the wine shop is planning to do a brain scan, they have to cover the costs and cheap wine in expensive bottle makes sense.

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