Money on the brain

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

brain

A new academic study suggests that the appreciation of objects may vary on a biological level in connoisseurs’ minds depending on the price of the object. Research by Antonio Rangel of the California Institute of Technology, published last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that participants in the study really thought more expensive wines tasted better than cheaper wines. Functional magnetic-resonance imaging measured greater blood flow and mental activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortices (which registers pleasure centers in the brain) of the 20 volunteers according to the reported price of the wine.

Participants rated the same bottle of wine much better when told it was expensive. In a follow-up blind tasting when they weren’t told the prices, participants were not able to detect differences.

Dr. Rangel believes that this suggests that price is performing as a proxy for collective learning–it’s a heuristic for allowing people to quickly evaluate something’s quality. Another possibility is that people enjoy expensive things more (on a biochemical level) because they think they’ll increase their status and mating opportunities.

Can a successful marketing campaign actually make people enjoy luxury goods more than they would otherwise? It’s an intriguing thought for luxury marketers.

[via The Economist]

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