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Study: Wine price can affect taste


STANFORD, Calif. Money may not buy happiness, but it can buy the perception of good taste -- at least when it comes to wine. A new study by the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the California Institute of Technology found that when people are told they are drinking an expensive bottle of wine, even if it costs only $5, the part of the brain that experiences pleasure becomes more active.

In the Stanford and Caltech study, 11 male Caltech graduate students were told that they would be trying five different Cabernet Sauvignons, identified by price, to study the effect of sampling time on flavor. In fact, only three wines were used two were given twice. The first wine was identified by its real bottle price of $5 and by a fake $45 price tag. The second wine was marked with its actual $90 price and by a fictitious $10 tag. The third wine, which was used to distract the participants, was marked with its correct $35 price. A tasteless water was also given in between wine samples to rinse the subjects' mouths. The wines were given in random order, and the students were asked to focus on flavor and how much they enjoyed each sample.

According to the researchers, the participants said they could taste five different wines, even though there were only three, and added that the wines identified as more expensive tasted better.

"What we document is that price is not just about inferences of quality, but it can actually affect real quality," said Baba Shiv, associate professor of marketing who co-authored a paper titled "Marketing Actions Can Modulate Neural Representations of Experienced Pleasantness," published online Jan. 14 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "So, in essence, [price] is changing people's experiences with a product and, therefore, the outcomes from consuming this product."

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