The role of expectation in our judgment

I was perusing the web pages of The Atlantic, when I noticed an piece about the psychology of wine-tasting, a subject I personally wish I had more knowledge of. Here’s part of an excerpt from David McCraney’s book, You Are Not So Smart.

“[Wine tasting] can even be a professional career…with all the terminology like notes, tears, integration, and connectedness. Wine tasters will mention all sorts of things they can taste in a fine wine as if they were a human spectrograph with the ability to sense the molecular makeup of their beverage. Research shows, however, this perception can be hijacked, fooled, and might just be completely wrong.”

It turns out that many of the experienced tasters were easily swayed by what they were told to expect. When given two samples of the same cheap wine, they lauded the one they were told was pricier. McCraney uses these observations to generalize about our overall experiences. Expectation is “just as important as raw sensation.” Everything you’re told to expect of food, drinks, or persons you’re meeting will heavily influence how you feel about them. It seems true objectivity is impossible.

It may be commonsense point to belabor on my blog, but I found it particularly interesting for people who enjoy good food, people like myself. If it’s mostly just hype and buzz that’s leading to my enjoyment, am I really enjoying my meal? McCraney does qualify his conclusion by saying that there is an element of original judgment involved when experiencing (or in our case, tasting) something. If there wasn’t, we’d all love Shake Shack and Crumbs Bakery. Fortunately, we all don’t.

Check out the excerpt in The Atlantic. It’s a well-written, thoughtful observation with more information than I’ve covered here. I’m considering getting a copy of his book.

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