Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sense of value adds pleasure

expensive wine
Expensive wines taste better also because the sense of value turns on a pleasure mechanism in the frontal brain - this is real stuff and not just an illusion. That is, the wine taster really perceives a better taste as can be shown by brain magnetic resonance imaging. This is more than a simple expectation of the type "it's a Chateau, must be good" as a neural marketing experiment at Caltech has shown.

Twenty volunteers have been given the task of tasting five sorts of wines, identified by their retail prices of 5, 10, 35, 45, and 90 dollars. However, in reality, there were only three sorts of wines, two of them have been used twice. For instance, wine number two has been presented as 90 dollar (its real price) and also as 10 dollar wine. Subjects reported the higher priced wines to taste better than the cheaper ones. Plus the area of the brain that is involved with pleasantness was more active when the subjects reported a better taste.

The researchers hesitate to conclude that these brain scans show a real or just an imagined increase in pleasure. But it is hard to believe that a mere illusion would produce such a result. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The object may not meet all general beauty standards but, if the beholder is highly tuned to it, he may perceive it as the most beautiful in the world. Without this principle, men only would fall in love with supermodels, women only with supermachos.

How to make use of it

These findings may be important to sales managers but even more so for all those who like to add more pleasure to life. Adding more value may be a good first step. This does not mean just to buy expensive things but also to be aware of the most valuable good we have, time.

The Caltech wine experiment somehow reminds me of the finding reported yesterday, awareness of death as a source of positive feelings. It would be interesting to know if the same brain mechanism is involved in both cases.

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