Oenologist’s proffer their superior knowledge of wine tastes and grape varieties, however: are they just selling us snake oil ? Do ‘expensive’ wines really give us more pleasure than cheap, quaffable, plonk ?
Antonio Rangel, a Prof from Caltech, tested pleasure responses to wine tasting in an fMRI scanner. The results give us a great insight into the relationship between expectation and neurological response.
From CalTech News:
“Rangel and his colleagues had 20 volunteers taste five wine samples which, they were told, were identified by their different retail prices: $5, $10, $35, $45, and $90 per bottle. While the subjects tasted and evaluated the wines, their brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI.
The subjects consistently reported that they liked the taste of the $90 bottle better than the $5 one, and the $45 bottle better than the $35 one. Scans of their brains supported their subjective reports; a region of the brain called the medial orbitofrontal cortex, or mOFC, showed higher activity when the subjects drank the wines they said were more pleasurable.
There was a catch to the experiment, however. Although the subjects had been told that they would taste five different, variously priced wines, they actually had sampled only three. Wines 1 and 2 were used twice, but labeled with two different prices. For example, wine 2 was presented as the $90 wine (its actual retail price) and also as the $10 wine. When the subjects were told the wine cost $90 a bottle, they loved it; at $10 a bottle, not so much. In a follow-up experiment, the subjects again tasted all five wine samples, but without any price information; this time, they rated the cheapest wine as their most preferred.”
The implications of this research are, imo, profound:
1) Expectations (of price) determined the neurological experience of pleasure.
2) Unbiased pleasure may actually be caused by things to which we are, at best, neutral about in an expectation rich environment.
3) Free-Will is, apparently, limited by our cognitive expectations. However, the experience of free will is essentially neurological. As such, neurological experience is cognitively determined. Biologists beware – your discipline is threatened !