Pricey Food Equates to Pricey Taste

Placebo Study Validates Heightened Expectaions

Pricey FoodPricey food equates to pricey taste according to researchers at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Food that is more expensive seems to trump its lesser expensive counterpart. Studies have confirmed that people will ultimately pay more to satisfy their taste buds and since people associate cost with quality, that association seems to carry through to the experience of the meal.

During the research at Cornell, half of the study group ate four-dollar meals, while the other half ate eight-dollar meals. In this study, customers were asked to grade the taste of the food and rate the overall experience of the restaurant. Participants favorably rated the more expensive fare as 11 percent more enjoyable than those who participated in the lesser fare. Those consuming the four-dollar meal reported feeling overly stuffed.

Brian Wansink, PhD, professor at Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University, stated that it was surprising to uncover that pricing greatly impacted the experience over the consumption of how much was eaten. He avidly studies “consumer behavior;” therefore, and is not surprised that pricey food can be traced to pricey taste through the anticipation of the experience.

Onge Sigiri, also a researcher at  the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, made the observation that whether food is pricey or not, it will be eaten. Again, findings validated that the difference is in the evaluation of the experience.

All-you-can-eat-buffets are becoming targets among researchers as concern points to encouraging obesity. Health advocates are now proposing new tax laws which will be absorbed by “buffet” restaurant owners as well as consumers. This study strictly focused on the behavioral psychology relating to the experience for consumers. It had nothing to do with health concerns.

Another interesting uptick that was found in these studies was the psychological performance of ritual behavior. Performing rituals tickles taste buds. Doing so before eating can change not only the taste, but the perceptions of food, as was published in Psychological Science. University of Minnesota researchers found that pleasure consumption is linked to ritualistic behavior.

Social psychologist, Daniel R. Hawes revealed that the brain shows activation in correlating price with pleasure. The part of the brain that experiences pleasure is the medial orbitofrontal cortex. An MRI scan highlighted this activity during a placebo testing of wine. It seems that when higher expectations are present, the brain perceives more than what was expected and the end result is greater pleasure to the taste buds.

Many of the findings presented in this article were revealed at the Experimental Biological Conference 2014 Conference which meets annually. The mission of this gathering is to offer unparalleled opportunity share research findings as well as the most recent scientific concepts. There were in excess of 14,000 scientists and exhibitors in attendance.

Overall, the association of cost with quality is consistent. When the psychology of the mind connects with heightened expectations, it creates an opportunity for a more pleasurable experience. As mentioned, even in a placebo study, an MRI scan was able to detect valid findings of excitement when higher expectations were present. Brain imagery through the ever-continuing advancement of technology is revealing more data than ever before on physical responses to the psyche of the human brain. So yes, pricey food is equating to pricey taste.

By Jill Boyer-Adriance

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