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Experiments with beer and a bit of science

To welcome two new members to the OneFifty team, (the lovely Maria and Monica), we decided to hold a beer tasting evening. Being a consultancy which prides itself on using models of human behaviour, we couldn’t let this opportunity go without running a little social experiment… Having a background in psychology, I set about researching what study to run whilst still being able to drink the most beer possible!

A topic which kept popping up is the association of taste and price. There has been extensive research suggesting that when someone knows the cost of a meal they rate it as tastier. For example, a study at Cornell University examined the price of an all-you-can-eat buffet (1). They took diners to an-all-you-can eat Italian and they were charged either $4 or $8 dollars. After the meal they were asked to rate how nice the food was. Diners who paid the higher price rated the food better. This has also been supported by neurological studies using wine (2). A study conducted by Plassmann (2008) found that the medial orbitofrontal  cortex (a brain region, which is heavily associated with pleasure) showed increased activity when individuals believed the bottle was worth $90 compared with those who thought it was worth $1o. All of which indicates that the price tag really does influence how much you enjoy the taste, and could be a primary factor in the taste of the food and drink

So, based on all this research, I thought it was imperative we try it out on beer and test if the cost is so heavily linked with taste. I ordered 8 different beers which ranged in price from a Fosters, to be drunk on a blurry Friday night, to a Kirin, to be enjoyed at a fancy restaurant. I split my subjects (i.e. co-workers) into 2 groups: one group knew the cost and brand of beer and the other tasted the beer without knowing either. They then ranked the beer from 1 to 10 on how much they liked it. In theory, the group which knew the prices of the beer should have liked the more expensive beer more, whereas the blind group ranking of the beer would vary based on individual taste preference.

Moment of truth….. Did the study work? Unfortunately there were no significant differences between either groups.This is probably due to the limited sample size and successively tasting beers (although fun at the time!) may have affected how people tasted and ranked the beer. There was, however, a general trend to enjoying more expensive beer especially with the high-end beers such as Kirini and Brookyln. Surprisingly Heineken did well in both groups although this may be because this beer was more familiar and this generally increases the liking of a particular food.

Maybe we just need to try it again? With more beer?


  1. David R., Özge Sığırcı, & Brian Wansink (2014). Lower Buffet Prices Lead to Less Taste Satisfaction. Journal of Sensory Studies, 29(5), 362-370. doi: 10.1111/joss.12117.

  2. Plassmann, H. (2008-01-14) Marketing actions can modulate neural representations of experienced pleasantness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 19(2 Pt 1), 430-1054. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0706929105


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