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Are We Biased Towards Expensive Wines?

A follow up to Does All Wine Taste the Same?

Researchers from Stanford and the California Institute of Technology recently asked twenty volunteers to taste and evaluate five wine samples that were labeled according to price: $5, $10, $35, $45, and $90 a bottle. The volunteers were similar to many of us: they were moderate wine drinkers but not experts. And after tasting the wine, they replied as you or I might: they liked the expensive wine best.

But, as you might suspect, the researchers pulled a switcheroo on them. The $90 wine actually appeared twice—once in the $90 bottle and once in the $10 bottle. The same for the $45 wine: it appeared in the $45 bottle, but also in the $5 bottle. But the tasters never noticed; no matter what, they preferred the wine when it was in the more expensive bottle. And this was not simple snobbery at work. Brain scans showed that the higher-priced wines generated more activity in an area of the brain (the medial orbitofrontal cortex) that responds to certain pleasurable experiences. And when the drinkers drank the cheap wines? Their brains actually registered less pleasure from the experience.

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(H/T eric)