Researchers have proven what many oenophiles already knew—an expensive bottle of vino tastes better than less costly varieties. German researchers surveyed 30 individuals by showing them how much a bottle of wine cost before giving them a little bit to drink while their brains were being monitored in an MRI scanner.
The cost of the wines ranged from approximately $4 to $22; however, what the participants didn’t know was that all the wine they tasted was actually identical and cost about $14. The volunteers rated the wine on a nine-point scale. The result? The participants gave higher scores to what they believed was the higher-priced wine and lower scores to what they believed was the cheaper wine.
Professor Hilke Plassmann, the study co-author, noted, “As expected, the subjects stated that the wine with the higher price tasted better than an apparently cheaper one.”
The Researchers from the INSEAD Business School and the University of Bonn examined the volunteers’ brains while they were evaluating the wine. They discovered that greater activity occurred in two areas: the medial prefrontal cortex and the ventral striatum. These two areas of the brain are connected to decision-making and seeking rewards. When a person sees something with a higher price, he or she expects the reward to be greater. So, if a bottle of wine is more expensive, the assumption is that it will taste better.
Study co-author Liane Schmidt, explained, “Ultimately, the reward and motivation system plays a trick on us.”
The researchers dubbed this reaction the “marketing placebo effect.” It has been medically proven that if an individual believes a pill will make them feel better, it probably will even if it’s just a sugar pill. The brain is playing a trick on that person—the person expects the pill to offer pain relief because he believes that it will. With wine, the expectation is that the more expensive it is the better it will taste.
The researchers concluded, “Our findings contribute to a better general understanding of mind–brain–body interactions, and how they shape human behaviour in everyday life.
At the very least, consumers should be aware that there is a price bias and corresponding placebo effect when it comes to the way products, such as wine, are marketed.