22 January 2008

Scientific Proof of Snobbery

Antonio Rangel and colleagues at California Institute of Technology had a theory (not a theory in the common sense of the word, but a theory in the scientific sense of the word, like the the Theory of Gravity and the Theory of Evolution) and decided to test it. According to a story on www.startribune.com, they thought that consumers perceptions of quality were influenced by the price of the item.

They asked 20 people to sample wine while undergoing functional MRI's of their brain activity. The subjects were told they were tasting five different Cabernet Sauvignons sold at different prices.

However, there were actually only three wines sampled, two being offered twice, marked with different prices.

A $90 wine was provided marked with its real price and again marked $10, while another was presented at its real price of $5 and also marked $45.

The testers' brains showed more pleasure at the higher price than the lower one, even for the same wine, Rangel reports in this week's online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In other words, changes in the price of the wine changed the actual pleasure experienced by the drinkers, the researchers reported.

"Our results suggest that the brain might compute experienced pleasantness in a much more sophisticated manner that involves integrating the actual sensory properties of the substance being consumed with the expectations about how good it should be," they reported.

Over at Appellation Beer, there is a discussion of the merits of high prices on beer. But I think they are missing the real point: People want to be perceived as having good taste; and in our society how much you spend on your activity is an external indicator of taste.

When I was in High School, back in the days before the Internet, Shiner Bock was a cheap beer. When the current owners took over, their first step was to raise the price to match Premium beers of the time: Lone Star, Pearl, Budweiser (This was even before Bud Light), etc. While their older consumers dropped the brand in favor of Texas Pride, sales exploded.


posted by hiikeeba at 06:57


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