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Research found that a bottle’s high price tag tricks our brains into thinking the wine tastes better.

Maria Yagoda
August 15, 2017

If you’re looking to feel validated in your conservative wine-buying habits, look no further. A new study found that a high price tag on a bottle of wine tricks our brains into thinking it tastes better than a lower-priced bottle, even when the wines are identical.

Scientists from INSEAD Business School and the University of Bonn studied the decision-making center in the brain to track price biases, which lead people to believe a $25 bottle of wine tastes better than a $15 one. When drinking the more expensive bottle, our brains convince us it tastes better than the cheaper one, even when the wines are exactly the same, just labeled with different prices. This phenomenon is known as the “marketing placebo effect.”

The 30 participants in the study—half women, half men, all around age 30—tasted wines lying down in an MRI scanner, and before each tasting, they were shown the price. Each time, they tasted the same “average-to-good quality red” that retailed at 12 euros, but the price was shown as 3, 6 and 18 euro for each tasting. After tasting, they were asked to rate the wines.

“As expected, the subjects stated that the wine with the higher price tasted better than an apparently cheaper one,” said INSEAD Business School professor Hilke in a statement. The marketing placebo effect, however, loses its power when the bottle is super low quality, making it impossible to pass off as $100 or an artificially inflated price. 

“The exciting question is now whether it is possible to train the reward system to make it less receptive to such placebo marketing effects,” said Bernd Weber, professor at University of Bonn, in the same statement. Maybe we teach our brains to assume low-priced wines tastes better? That would be nice.