When it comes to wine tasting, pleasure is in the price.
Using brain scanners to monitor the minds of wine drinkers, scientists found that people given two identical red wines got more pleasure from tasting the one they were told cost more.
The study, reported last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrated for the first time how marketing tactics - such as raising the price of a product - can cause the brain to play tricks on itself.
Researchers led by Antonio Rangel, associate professor of economics at Caltech, asked 20 volunteers to rank their enjoyment of small sips of five differently priced Cabernet Sauvignon wines while a functional MRI machine monitored the brain response.
Unbeknown to volunteers, two sets of wine samples were identical: the $5 and $45 wines ($5 actual price) and the $10 and $90 wines ($90 actual price). The fifth was identified by its actual $35 price.
Volunteers were asked to rank the pleasantness of the wines. They liked the $90 wine best and the $5 wine least.
Brain scans showed that activity in the part of the brain that detects pleasure also moved in lock step with price. The medial orbital prefrontal cortex, located behind the eyes, showed greatest activity when volunteers drank the wine marked $90 and the least when they sipped the wine priced at $5.
Denise Gellene writes for The Los Angeles Times.