Wine price, margarine, & gluten allergies
Here are three cool experiments. They highlight one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from years of coaching people.
1) Tricking people into being wine connoisseurs.
In 2008, Antonio Rangel, a professor of economics at Caltech, and his team ran an experiment on 20 volunteers.
They had folks taste different wines of various prices, ranging from $5 to $90. Their brains were scanned with fMRI while they drank and judged the wine.
The catch: some of the wine was duplicated and given a different price “For example, wine 2 was presented as the $90 wine (its actual retail price) and also as the $10 wine. When the subjects were told the wine cost $90 a bottle, they loved it; at $10 a bottle, not so much.”
Brains scans proved that people weren’t lying when they claimed they enjoyed the more expensive wines reliably more than the cheaper ones. Simply charging a higher fee made people feel as though it was of higher quality.
2) Margarine vs butter.
In the 1940s, Good Luck Margarine hired Ukrainian psychologist Lois Cheskin, to figure out why people hated margarine and always preferred butter.
“Cheskin began his research by inviting local housewives to a series of lunchtime lectures. These lectures were preceded by a buffet; nothing fancy – just triangles of white bread and chilled pats of butter.”
The housewives were interviewed afterward. After a few questions about the lecture, they were asked about the food.
Cheskin swapped between butter and margarine to see if the women would reveal different preferences. They reliably preferred the food when butter was served.
Similar to the wine experiment, Cheskin tricked his subjects. “In the tests, he’d dyed the margarine yellow and labeled it butter and dyed the butter white and labeled it margarine.”
When people thought they were eating margarine, they liked the food less. When they thought they were eating butter, they enjoyed the food more.
3) Do people actually have gluten allergies?
While a third of Americans claim to be gluten-sensitive, celiac disease only affects 0.7-1% of the population.
Outside of celiac disease, averse reactions to gluten have been linked with a number of other possibilities: wheat allergy (also below 1% of people), type 1 diabetes, depression, and more. But the research is inconclusive as to the exact relationship between gluten consumption and undesirable effects.
David Robson explains an experiment he and his team did in his book The Expectation Effect.
After realizing self-reported gluten intolerance went from 3% to 30% in 10 years, he wanted to figure out whether that was due to human evolution or a rapidly changing food industry.
So they brought people into a lab. Half of them had self-reported gluten intolerances; half did not.
They gave every single person the same meal and told them it had gluten in it. It did not.
Subjects who didn’t report gluten intolerance quickly began experiencing common negative reactions to gluten: diarrhea, hives, and inflammation. These were people with no biological gluten intolerance who hadn’t eaten any gluten.
(Chris Williamson and Andrew Huberman explain this better than I can in this short video.)
The obvious throughline in these experiments is the power our expectations have with our psychological and physical experiences. We have a phrase for this in the coaching world:
“What we search for, we see. What we look for, we find.”
If you think the US is a racist country, you will see instances of racism everywhere. If you think astrology is real, you will find truths in horoscopes everywhere. If you believe people are naturally good at heart, you will see reasons for positivity and gratitude everywhere.
Information that contradicts our beliefs takes a long time to sway us (if it ever does at all).
I’ve seen this over and over again in my coaching practice.
The people who learn and grow the most are those who practice a growth mindset—the belief that we can achieve anything with enough time, effort, and energy.
Those who live the most peaceful and fulfilled lives tend to be those who constantly focus on the things they’re grateful for, the lessons they’re learning, and the value they’re getting from all of life’s challenges.
On the flip side, how many of us know people who seem to be in a perpetual state of negativity? Everyone’s out to get them. The world is a miserable place. People are morons.
There’s a quote I like:
“If you go run errands, and you run into a mean person…you probably just met an asshole. If you go run errands, and you run into 20 mean people…you’re probably an asshole.”
So I’ll leave you with some questions:
What do you generally think of the world—the planet, your country, your neighborhood?
How do you think your expectations of other people affect your day-to-day life?
Do you have a gluten allergy?