Expensive tastes: pricing proven to affect how we evaluate a wine's quality

Alys Key
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Expensive taste is tricking our palates (Source: Getty)

Wine connoisseurs are in for a shock as new research suggests that pricing influences how your tastebuds respond to the drink.

The same wine tasted better to participants when it was labelled with a higher price, in a study conducted by scientists at the INSEAD Business School and the University of Bonn.

Test subjects were served a wine which retails for around €12 a bottle, but were randomly told it cost anywhere between €3 and €18.

When expecting the higher priced wine, participants said that it tasted better, in what researchers termed the "marketing placebo effect".

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But why? Well, the whole thing was conducted in an MRI scanner, which allowed scientists to see which parts of the brain responded to price information.

They found that the medial pre-frontal cortex and the ventral striatum were both activated more when prices were higher. While the pre-frontal cortex appeared to be involved in integrating the price comparison with the evaluation of wine, the ventral striatum forms part of the brain's reward and motivation system.

In short, the part of our brains that makes us feel rewarded was on higher alert when it thought the subject was about to taste some premium wine.

“Ultimately, the reward and motivation system plays a trick on us,” explained INSEAD Post-Doctoral Fellow Liane Schmidt.

But the effect does have limitations. If a low-quality wine is labelled with a €100 price tag, the disparity is too wide and the effect is absent.

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