Dr Rangel gave his volunteers sips of what he said were five different wines made from cabernet sauvignon grapes, priced at between $5 and $90 a bottle. He told each of them the price of the wine in question as he did so. Except, of course, that he was fibbing. He actually used only three wines. He served up two of them twice at different prices.
The scanner showed that the activity of the medial orbitofrontal cortices of the volunteers increased in line with the stated price of the wine. For example, when one of the wines was said to cost $10 a bottle it was rated less than half as good as when people were told it cost $90 a bottle, its true retail price. Moreover, when the team carried out a follow-up blind tasting without price information they got different results. The volunteers reported differences between the three “real” wines but not between the same wines when served twice.
Nor was the effect confined to everyday drinkers. When Dr Rangel repeated the experiment on members of the Stanford University wine club he got similar results.
Humans are a strange bunch.