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Cheap wine tastes great with a higher price tag!

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Berlin: Marketing cheap wine as pricier can actually change the drinker’s brain chemistry, making inexpensive wine more enjoyable, according to a new study. When consumers taste cheap wine they rate it highly if they believe it is expensive, researchers said. They wanted to find out whether this is because prejudice has blinded them to the actual taste, or because prejudice actually changed their brain function, causing them to experience the cheap wine in the same physical way as the expensive wine.

They found that the preconceived beliefs may create a placebo effect so strong that the actual chemistry of the brain changes. “Studies have shown that people enjoy identical products such as wine or chocolate more if they have a higher price tag,” said authors Hilke Plassmann from INSEAD in France and Bernd Weber from the University of Bonn, Germany.

“However, almost no research has examined the neural and psychological processes required for such marketing placebo effects to occur,” they said. Participants in one of the studies were told they would consume five wines (USD 90, USD 45, USD 35, USD 10, USD 5) while their brains were scanned using an MRI.


In reality, subjects consumed only three different wines with two different prices. Another experiment used labels to generate positive (“organic”) or negative (“light”) expectations of the pleasantness of a milkshake. Some consumed identical milkshakes but thought they would be either organic or regular; others consumed identical milkshakes but thought they would be either light or regular.

Participants showed significant effect of price and taste prejudices, both in how they rated the taste as well as in their measurable brain activity. The MRI readings related in part to specific areas of the brain that differ from person to person. These differences are also associated with known differences in personality traits.

The authors were able to further determine that people who were strong reward-seekers or who were low in physical self-awareness were also more susceptible to having their experience shaped by prejudices about the product.

“Understanding the underlying mechanisms of this placebo effect provides marketers with powerful tools. Marketing actions can change the very biological processes underlying a purchasing decision, making the effect very powerful indeed,” the authors concluded. The study was published in the Journal of Marketing Research.