Monday, December 31, 2012
We are deceived by a lot of things, by ourselves and by others, especially advertisers. We are all familiar with the pricing scheme of marking items as $19.99 instead of $20 to make them seem like a bargain, even though many people, when asked, will describe the $19.99 shirt as a $20 shirt. Consciously we are not fooled, but subconsciously it registers as a better deal. Consider that nine-tenths of a penny per gallon on the price of gasoline.
Surprisingly, the opposite strategy is also used. When paying a higher price, we often believe we are buying better quality even when we are really getting substantially the same thing. In prior postings I brought your attention to tests of (more expensive) organic foods showing that they are not nutritionally superior. Recently we learned that family cars outperformed luxury cars in the new crash tests. I have seen many Consumers Digest-type articles saying that ordinary moisturizers help your skin as well as the high-priced brands that claim to be superior. Higher-priced brand name drugs continue to sell well against similar or even identical generics by virtue of perceived quality. “When presented microwaved food from the frozen food section in the setting of a fine restaurant, most people never notice.”
I remembered some time ago seeing a story about wine judging. Experts were asked to rate a certain group of wines. Later, in what they thought was a different event, they were presented with the same wines. The ratings of the same wines by the same judges came out completely different – no correlation whatsoever. I couldn’t find that source, but was overwhelmed by similar stories. One told of wine tasting experts fooled in general, recommending wines with expensive labels with eloquent descriptions of their superiority over the same wine poured out of an different bottle. Experts also gave differing descriptions when served a white wine and the same wine with red food coloring added. Others couldn’t tell if a wine was red or white when they drank them from black-colored glasses.
It’s not only the experts who are fooled. “Expensive wine is like anything else that is expensive, the expectation it will taste better actually makes it taste better.” This article gave even more examples. HDTV clarity and cheese tasting elicited the same perceptive errors based on price. A January 2008 study showed that adults rated the same wine as tasting better when it came from bottles labeled $45 than from ones labeled $5.
How would this apply to the art world? Experts always want to tell us what to think and what is real art. We often look at the work and scratch our heads. Here is a comment from a friend who visited an exhibition of what was proclaimed to be a major contemporary British artist at the Aberdeen (Scotland) Art Museum. “Imagine a giant empty exhibit hall with nearly-blank canvases, each about 7 feet square, or painted unevenly in reddish-orange oil. A life-size bronze casting of a rumpled sleeping bag.” I'm sure most of us would be equally puzzled at the praise for such an exhibit, but in the art world there is so much hype, and it’s so easy for the experts to pompously fall back on the accusation that others "just don’t get it." We buy that logic and that’s why we get what we get. (For an amusing spoof on contemporary art check out a film called Untitled).)
The effects of high price and over-reliance on so-called experts apply in many other fields. So before you buy something based on the name or the price, do the research. Whether it’s food, art, drugs, wine, cosmetics or cars, more expensive is not necessarily better. When all you have to go on is expert opinion rather than evidence, you are usually safe to trust your own taste.
Which brings us to the real topic for today – champagne. It is, after all, New Year’s Eve. In this case I have done the research for you, and guess what? More expensive is not necessarily better. As this British source says, “In a blind test that has thrilled the marketing departments of the major retailers and perturbed at least one of the grande marques, six wine experts gave a resounding vote of support to some of the less glamorous bottles.” Here's a short, light-hearted video with the same conclusion.
So buy what you like and save a little cash. Happy Critical Thinking in the New Year, and Cheers!