We propose that marketing actions, such as changes in the price of a product, can affect neural representations of experienced pleasantness. We tested this hypothesis by scanning human subjects using functional MRI while they tasted wines that, contrary to reality, they believed to be different and sold at different prices. Our results show that increasing the price of a wine increases subjective reports of flavor pleasantness as well as blood-oxygen-level-dependent activity in medial orbitofrontal cortex, an area that is widely thought to encode for experienced pleasantness during experiential tasks.
So, rather than just rationalizing your extra expense, it’s possible that you are actually enjoying the wine more just because it was expensive.
“The lesson is a very deep one, not only about marketing but about the human experience,” said Rangel, an associate professor of economics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “This study shows that the expectations that we bring to the experience affect the experience itself.”
If only there was a way to convince yourself you were drinking expensive, amazing wine without actually paying more for it… maybe that’s why everyone loves Costco so much?