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article imageOp-Ed: New Cornell study — Pay more, and you like the food more?

By Paul Wallis     May 1, 2014 in Food
Sydney - A new study of eating habits has found that price affects the perception of the quality of food. As a basis for diet, it’s a very cynical exercise, in one sense. If cheap food is considered lousy, what are you going to prefer to eat?
The theory of the new study by Cornell was that all you can eat buffets were a great way of focusing on dietary habits. The byproduct of the research was an unexpected insight into the psychology of eating.
Science Daily:
Researchers in nutrition, economics and consumer behavior often assume that taste is a given -- a person naturally either likes or dislikes a food. But a new study suggests taste perception, as well as feelings of overeating and guilt, can be manipulated by price alone.
"We were fascinated to find that pricing has little impact on how much one eats, but a huge impact on how you interpret the experience," said Brian Wansink, Ph.D., a professor at the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University who oversaw the research. "Simply cutting the price of food at a restaurant dramatically affects how customers evaluate and appreciate the food."
This is a well-known social phenomenon. Price confers status. It’s basically garbage, as a method of valuation. Most of the world’s most famous brands started out as lower priced entrants into their markets.
The psychology, however, is spot on. The perception of inferior quality is quite enough to leave a taste in your mouth, quite literally. You can afford to be more critical, to start with.
The Science Daily article continues:
...They presented 139 diners with a menu that offered an all-you-can-eat buffet priced at either $4 or $8. Customers were then asked to evaluate the food and the restaurant and rate their first, middle and last taste of the food on a nine-point scale.
Those who paid $8 for the buffet reported enjoying their food on average 11 percent more than those who paid $4, though the two groups ate the same amount of food overall. People who paid the lower price also more often reported feeling like they had overeaten, felt more guilt about the meal, and reported liking the food less and less throughout the course of the meal.
Now consider this — marketing cheap lousy food, on the basis that the knowledge of poor quality will therefore drive consumers to buy the more expensive food. It’s quite doable. Since much of the “food” available to consumers is additives, the net cost of producing god-awful food is lower than ever.
Brand X food, for example, is acknowledged to be the lowest quality food, despite the fact that most generic products are simply the same products, provided by the same suppliers, without the fancy packaging. The packaging costs more; not the product, but people happily buy the “superior” brand.
The most likely result of this research is a stampede to higher, more “credible” prices which will encourage diners to believe they’re not eating slop. Wait for the new deals on renting taste buds to develop.
The economics are even more cynicism provoking. Much folk-food, like traditional ethnic dishes, is now incredibly expensive in restaurants. This isn’t better food or different food. They’re the same dishes, multiplied in terms of price, not quality.
Add to this adorable phenomenon the proof of providing diners with more proven incentives to buy with higher prices, and the ridiculous cost of eating out continues to increase. Restaurant food used to be good, cheap, and nutritious. Now it’s absurd, over-priced, over-packaged, and over-sold.
A tadpole, some white sauce and a sprig of parsley are now considered a meal. The day any form of sanity comes back to reporting things like this, I’ll be a very happy writer.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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