People enjoy wine more if they believe it costs more, according to a California Institute of Technology experiment that was widely reported today. The BBC put this politely as having shown that people enjoyed the supposedly more expensive wine more.
This wasn’t just due to people pretending to have a more sophisticated palate, either, as it was observed on brain scans that “pleasure centres” in the brain were more activated.
If the pop science reports are right, this was a very elegant experiment, so simple and easy to repeat, but suggesting so many wider avenues for investigation beyond the taste of wines..
It’s an illuminating reminder that so many of our pleasures are experienced only because of the value that others put on things. There is no simple nature-culture divide. We perceive what other people have allowed us to perceive. We value things that we are led to see as valuable – obviously making us suckers for advertising, as well as eager consumers of a whole range of cultural fables and moral values. Social values are somehow integrated into our biology.