A Moment of Science

A TV Dinner by Candle Light

Experiments support the notion that knowing the price of something before trying it affects your overall experience.

Wine Bottles

Photo: Stock Exchange

Knowing the price of wine might affect how much you like it.

Imagine a friend of yours has invited you over for dinner to share a gourmet meal and an expensive bottle of wine. You really enjoy the meal and the wine so you ask your friend where she got the stuff.

She confesses that the “gourmet meal” was really a TV dinner nicely arranged on your plate, and that the pricey wine bottle had been emptied before you came over and re-filled with cheap wine. Some dinner!

But much of the enjoyment we receive from consuming gourmet foods, pricey wines, and other fancy products comes from the perception that these products are rare and expensive.

A study out of Caltech had participants rate the quality of five wines each labeled only by their price per bottle, which ranged from five to ninety dollars. While participants drank and rated the wines, their brain activity was monitored and recorded using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or f MRI.

During this experiment the sneaky researchers gave participants the same wine twice: first labeled as coming from a ninety-dollar bottle, and then again from a ten-dollar bottle. Interestingly people consistently rated the ninety-dollar wine higher than the ten-dollar, even though they were really the same wine!

Moreover, when drinking the supposedly pricey wine, the f MRI scans recorded more activity in a spot in the brain believed to be associated with the experience of pleasure; it’s called the medial orbitofrontal cortex. So it looks like the next time your friend invites you over for a nice dinner and a bottle of wine you’re better off not asking any questions at all; in this case ignorance is bliss.

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