How your brain makes higher priced wine taste better – study

New research has shed light on how the brain is wired to rate a higher priced wine as better than one with a cheaper price tag, even if the samples come from the same bottle.

  • Price triggers key parts of brain in attempt to ‘trick’ tastebuds

  • ‘Exciting question’ is how far people can be trained to resist

Scientists claim to have found new evidence of how parts of our brain attempt to ‘trick’ us into thinking a higher price tag means better wine.

Researchers at the University of Bonn and and INSEAD Business School gave the same €12 wine repeatedly to unwitting participants, showing them the price tag as three euros, six euros and then €18.

They monitored participants’ brain activity using a nuclear spin tomograph.

Fifteen men and fifteen women aged around 30 years took part, and some were given a budget of 45 euros to spend.

Participants were given one millilitre of wine at a time through tubes going directly into their mouths; something unlikely to be seen at a wine tasting event.

‘As expected, the subjects stated that the wine with the higher price tasted better than an apparently cheaper one,’ said professor Hilke Plassmann, from the INSEAD Business School and one of the study’s lead authors.

‘However, it was not important whether the participants also had to pay for the wine or whether they were given it for free.’

Researchers focused on two parts of the brain, in particular. One was the medial pre-frontal cortex, which appeared to compute price into expectation and thus influence evaluation of the wine.

The other was the ventral striatum, which operated a sort of ‘reward and motivation system, [which] is activated more significantly with higher prices and apparently increases the taste experience in this way’, said professor Dr. Bernd Weber, one of the study’s lead authors and from the Center for Economics and Neuroscience at the University of Bonn.

It wasn’t clear to what extent people could train their taste buds to reduce the effect of these brain impulses based on price.

‘The exciting question is whether you can train the reward system [in the brain] to make it less receptive to such placebo marketing effects,’ said Prof Weber.

Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers, for example, undergo rigorous training to identify many different technical elements in a wine within a system that attempts to calibrate their assessment.

Blind tastings commonly take place without the price of the wines being revealed.

Previous research has found that Master Sommeliers have developed a thicker sensory and memory area of their brains compared to ‘normal’ people.

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