Pepsi challenge: what it tells us about wine tasting
Montague, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas,
devised a fascinating experiment that has implications for wine
tasting. It stemmed from a series of TV commercials in the 1970s and
80s where individuals were subjected to the ‘Pepsi challenge’. In
this test Pepsi was pitted against Coke blind, with subjects not
knowing which was which. They invariably preferred the taste of Pepsi,
but this wasn’t reflected in their buying decisions. Montague wanted
to know why.
he re-enacted the Pepsi challenge with volunteers. The difference was
that this time their brain activity was being scanned by an MRI
machine. On average, Pepsi produced a stronger response in the ventral
putamen, a region thought to process reward. In people who preferred
Pepsi, the putamen was five times as active when they drunk Pepsi than
it was in Coke-preferring subjects drinking Coke.
a clever twist, Montague repeated the experiments, this time telling
subjects what they were drinking. Remarkably, most of them now
preferred Coke. The brain activity also changed, with activity in the
medial prefrontal cortex, a region that shapes high-level cognitive
powers. The subjects were allowing what they knew about Coke – its
brand image – to shape their preferences. Remarkable.
implications for winetasting are clear. When we don’t taste blind,
our preferences are liable to be shaped by pre-existing information we
have about the wine. “The results (even just the behavioral results)
would speak directly to wine tasting as well”, Montague told wineanorak.com,
‘although the presence of alcohol might change things in interesting
as hard as we might to be objective, this isn’t possible. What we
know about wine will mould how we perceive the wine, and will even
shape how much we enjoy a particular bottle. This brings another
fascinating level of complexity to wine tasting.