Expensive wine does taste better.

Expensive wine does taste better.

When wine lovers drink wine they believe to be expensive, blood oxygen increases in the area of the brain concerned with feeling pleasure. This was shown in research by Plassman et al in 2008. The wine actually tastes better to them just because they think it is expensive and therefore believe it is good quality.

How often have you heard the old adage, “You get what you pay for”? It is ingrained into us, as we grow up, that more expensive products are better quality.

Of course, you know that that is not always the case. I’m sure you can think of many instances when you bought something expensive that broke, or something cheap which went on and on and on. However, if you are trying to choose between two similar products, you are likely to assume that the more expensive one will be better.

It is generally when we do not have the expert knowledge required to assess quality properly that we fall back on the price to inform us. However, it is not always as clear cut that more expensive is perceived as better. Your state of mind can change that. For example, if you have just spent time tackling your struggling finances, then cheaper is more likely to be seen as good value. If you have just spent time trying to fix a broken item and are now buying a replacement, you are more likely to think of cheaper as lower quality.

All other things being equal though, we equate price with quality, even though this is often not the case. Take medicine, for example. This is an area where people will pay more for quality. People will pay far more for big name brands, assuming them to be of superior quality. As I write this Tesco sells packs of 16 Nurofen 200mg tablets for £1.90. They obviously sell enough that Nurofen continues to make a profit on them. However, a pack of 16 tablets of Tesco’s own brand of ibuprofen costs only £0.35!

There is no doubt that Nurofen’s big brand name has an impact, but many people assume that because Nurofen costs so much more it must be that much better. However, both Nurofen’s and Tesco’s tablets each have 200mg of the active ingredient. There is no good reason to believe that the Nurofen brand works better.

Actually, I should revise that. There is one very good reason Nurofen may work better and faster than a supermarket’s own cheap brand: your belief that it will.


Find out more about how the mind plays tricks on you and how your memory works by reading my books, Bias Beware and Memory Matters.

Presentation is everything

Presentation is everything

I don’t know about you, but when I cook dinner for my family and dish it up, I am a firm believer that presentation doesn’t matter. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Taste is everything and the sloppiness of my sloshing the food onto the plate is unimportant. That is, until they taste it and I have to fall back on “It’s good for you and it’s all you’re getting. Eat it”, but that’s beside the point. My point is that it doesn’t matter what my cooking looks like on the plate.

But I’m wrong.

Presentation creates expectations, which affect our perception in every meaningful way, including taste. If someone sees a great looking meal on the plate the halo effect kicks in and they expect it to taste good too. That expectation influences the final perception so they are more likely to think it is delicious.
There are many experiments demonstrating this phenomena, including by Dan Ariely, as related in his book, Predictably Irrational. He set up a stand giving away free samples of coffee. There were various ingredients people could add to the coffee if they chose, but they were so bizarre that no one did. Those ingredients were in view though, and were either in styrofoam cups or beautifully laid out in classy, brushed metal containers. The consumers were much more likely to say they enjoyed the coffee if those (unused) additives were in the attractive containers.

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