Marketing cheap wine as expensive changes brain chemistry, making the wine more enjoyable for some people, says a new research. Such people have pre-conceived beliefs that create a placebo effect so strong that the actual chemistry of the brain changes for them.
Previous studies have shown that people enjoy identical products such as wine or chocolate more if they have a higher price tag.
"However, almost no research has examined the neural and psychological processes required for such marketing placebo effects to occur," said authors Hilke Plassmann from INSEAD, world's leading graduate business schools in France and Bernd Weber from University of Bonn, Germany.
The researchers tried to find, if prejudice has blinded participants to the actual taste, or has prejudice actually changed their brain function, causing them to experience the cheap wine in the same physical way as the expensive wine.
Participants in one of the studies were told they would consume five wines ($90, $45, $35, $10, $5) while their brains were scanned using an MRI. In reality, subjects consumed only three different wines with two different prices.
Participants showed significant effect of price and taste prejudices, both in how they rated the taste as well as in their measurable brain activity.
These differences are also associated with known differences in personality traits.
"People who were strong reward-seekers or who were low in physical self-awareness were also more susceptible to having their experience shaped by prejudices about the product," the authors noted.
The authors concluded that understanding the underlying mechanisms of this placebo effect provides marketers with powerful tools. Marketing actions can change the very biological processes underlying a purchasing decision, making the effect very powerful indeed.
The research appeared in the Journal of Marketing Research.