Don't think about it, and it's nice

Whilst doing his usual hardened research into what substances can be semi-legitimately used to water down beer should his nearest and dearest get a bit too greedy, the Poorhouse came across a fabulous booze study. Any study whose published write-up includes:

Our first three experiments were conducted at two local pubs: The Muddy Charles and The Thirsty Ear.

can't go far wrong.

Here's the deal: the study purports to show how influenceable you weak-brained humans area on even the most basic of instinct (yumminess), but rather than faff around in labs with silly psychological apparatus they figured some pub action was the way forward. They even offered free beer to participants. Unsurprisingly, "nearly everyone" said yes.

But they were kinda tricked...with the researchers secretly contaminating a third of the pints with vinegar no less. Uuurgh. Or actually not so uuurgh, because the first learning the Poorhouse made reading this is apparently inserting several drops of, the middle-class favourite's, balsamic vinegar into the average pint makes it, to the average person, taste nicer. One to try at the weekend maybe, and perhaps even a cheap alternative to miracles (still untested by the way). But unlike a double-shot of whiskey, the advantage is that whilst most people actually enjoy the combination, the big majority think they will hate it. Vinegar and beer!? Why would you?

But, to quote the massive cliche, it seems it's all in the mind. It only offends if you know about it. Participants were chucked into 1 of 3 groups. All groups were given both a glass of vinegary beer ("MIT brew") and a normal untainted version. One group though weren't told about the difference at all. Another were told about the vinegar incursion prior to drinking the mentally offensive concoction, and the third were also told, but only after they'd drunk it.

Results were tallied up as to who preferred which pint. Here's the results, details of the minor differences between each experiment are in the full study.

Yep, quite obviously, people did prefer the messy vinegar pint after all, as long as they didn't know what it was when they drunk it. And it seems it did actually affect their sense of taste in a way, because when told post-event but pre-questionnaire it didn't retrospectively taint their experience into thinking that a vinegar pint is not the best. So to summarise the practical implications for cooks of the Poorhouse calibre, just don't tell people their dinner is go to be foul, and maybe they won't think it is. People are really that surface-level persuadable; you can read more of it in the studies references: Coke tastes nicer out of a branded glass, people only prefer their favourite beer when it's labelled, and food tastes worse when it is made of "soy" or has a reduced amount of fat in it. The Poorhouse guesses that PR may well be worth the megabucks thrown at it after all.

In case anyone's thinking this was some facile trivial study of obviousness, the experimenters clearly had a touch of self-doubt themselves. Moving on from drinking to gambling, they tried to get another bunch of students predict the results of this experiment, the nearest would win $50. They didn't all guess the right answer, ergo this study was pushing the raw boundaries of cutting edge research.

NB: Another important thing the Poorhouse learnt reading the paper was that at least one of the author's mothers used to refer to crabcakes as "sea hamburgers".

Reference:

Try It, You'll Like It: The Influence of Expectation, Consumption, and Revelation on Preferences for Beer
Authors: Lee, Leonard; Frederick, Shane; Ariely, Dan
Source: Psychological Science, Volume 17, Number 12, December 2006 , pp. 1054-1058(5)


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Comments

Only one small problem

Have you seen the cost of balsamic vinegar? I'd say it would be cheaper to water your vinegar down with beer rather than vice-versa :)

Ah, never thought of that.

Ah, never thought of that. Didn't realised they'd invented anything more expensive than alcohol. I guess I should have guessed, any product that sounds like it only really comes from Waitrose is clearly not going to financially compare well to the own brand 2% lager we discussed Friday :-) My tap water probably costs more than that.

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