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How much influence do "experts" have on your choices and opinions?

I found this article to be intriguing and confirmatory of thoughts I've had about contextual "influencers" on people's opinions of food and drink.

>>>"""The take home lesson of this little experiment at Oxford is a familiar one. People’s esthetic reactions to external stimuli are powerfully dependent on their expectations. They will look at a supposed Rembrandt portrait and, “knowing” that it was painted by the master, be suitably impressed. Indeed, this is why “people travel to galleries around the world to see an original painting.” Something in the knowledge that the painting is original arouses intense pleasure. It’s not so much the art work itself as that awareness that people enjoy. On the other hand, if people “know” that a painting is fake, they will experience far different, more complex and less pleasurable thoughts and emotions–even if the painting is, in fact, real.

Back to my opening example of offering you the Lafite. It almost doesn’t matter whether or not the Lafite is real, or just some little Sonoma County Cabernet that costs $14. It’s irrelevant. What matters, according to the Oxford study, is what you think you know about it. That, in turn, depends on what I told you–and that, in turn, has a lot to do with how much you trust me, since I’m the “expert” in wine, and you’re not.
It follows from this that blind tasting is the only objective way to come to a conclusion about wine, but something else follows, also, that isn’t generally discussed in these types of conversations: wines of a similar variety and style are more alike than not, even when their scores vary."""<<<<


This rings true.

I've often wanted to put the $3.99 La Finca Argentinian barrel aged Malbec (Trader Joe's) into a much more "expensive" labeled bottle, then ask for comparative review by folks.

Have you ever done this?

What are your thoughts on the Oxford study? The conclusion of the study is more complex than how I've couched it, but I think it offers a springboard to discuss how we think of food and drink, and how we appreciate a chef, or read a review…..


PS, Speaking of "experts," I saw Jeffrey Steingarten today sitting around chatting after finishing lunch with three pals at a local strip mall Chinese restaurant here in Arlington, Virginia where we sometimes have the lunch special. (Table had been cleared.) He played the game, when I asked if he wasn't Jeffrey Steingarten, that he wasn't, and blithely said "Who is he?" Then one pal chimed in, to "bolster" the lie. Both of them had a slight smirk, Oh ho, dumb TV fan. His other two friends just sat there while I said, "Iron Chef Judge, author, Harvard graduate." I had planned on buying them a round of drinks. I apologized for bothering them, wished them Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, and went back to my table six feet away. I honestly thought he'd "come clean" as they left, but he didn't. Really, Mr. Steingarten, you ARE like you seem on TV!

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  1. This is a very interesting and a very complex topic. We all can be influenced by others to some extends. We are social being after all. Like the article states, there are certain things which cannot be influenced like telling you that an elephant is a lion. Basically, it is much easier to influence your opinion on subtle issues and on topic you are not familiar with.

    I don't think Oxford study showed anything we do not know already. The novel aspect of the study is that it uses a brain scanner to confirm the cause of these findings. That is, our human brains were influenced by the words.

    1 Reply
    1. alkapal, I like the article, and it has made me do a little thinking. I am such a skeptic about pretty much everything, that it's hard to influence my expectations in food. I will try anything, but whether you tell me it's cheap or expensive, 'the latest thing', or some old tradition, I still just use my own perceptions to decide if I like it or not.

      If I think I am supposed to like something because it's precious, I tend to analyze instead of accept, so it's interesting to see in the article what brain mechanisms are grinding away in there.

      Though I am pretty convinced that anything 'foam' is not going to be my thing. It's kind of like eating Jelly Belly Buttered Popcorn jelly beans. The texture is just way too out there for that flavor.

        1. I think a lot more emphasis should be put on context or expectations. I know that personally, my expectations or the context of the experience will have a very heavy influence on my actual experience.

          This goes for movies, food, etc. alike. That said -- I couldn't care less what any expert's opinion is.

          1 Reply
          1. re: linguafood

            Yes, context/expectations are HUGE for me, as well. I have basically not liked certain things (movies, dishes etc.) based on having very high expectations, that I may have found perfectly OK had I entered into the experience without them. I actively try to manage high expectations these days, but it doens't work too well.

            As for 'experts' - I will definitely listen to the opinions of experts...those I have some degree of knowledge of. I.e. if I know/trust a critic or friend on a certain subject, then I'll take their advice re: food. There are certain posters even on this board who I would pay a lot of attention to. It depends how confident I feel in the area. I like good food, but don't feel I know a lot about it or have a wide experience so...I will pay attention to the opinions of others.

            I remember reading something on Slate.com (I think...) awhile ago about wine tasting/judging. I could be misremebering this but I think it mentioned giving people dyed white wine (dyed to look like red wine) and people didn't realize it was white wine, even some 'experts'. Interesting.

          2. What an expert says--assuming that is someone who has actual knowledge of a subject rather than being self-proclaimed--matters to me on many issues. But you've put forth the idea that if someone is told something is great they tend to agree with that, but often what is great is by consensus so that's not necessarily just "experts." If I'm going to an expensive place I will take reviews into consideration so I won't waste my money, but when I sit down to the table I'm the only one that can say what tastes good to me.

            1. I loved the blind taste tests he put to various wine experts in Gordon Ramsay's "The F Word" show. He would put a celebrity wine (Barry Manilow, Madonna) against a fine wine and see if the expert could tell which was the $9 bottle and which was the $250 bottle. Often they failed. In one case, the wine expert did not like the wine that turned out to be a $1000 bottle of Patrus.

              1 Reply
              1. re: GraydonCarter

                I watched that series (all of them, actually, but specifically that series with the wine tasting every ep). There was one cheesy celeb - can't remember who - maybe Manilow? - who actually chose his own wine as his favourite. A few experts who didn't care for the Petrus, and IIRC only one of these guys seemed to have any skill beyond pure chance when it came to IDing wines, and he was very good, identifying the type and region of wine etc. The F Word was an interesting show - Ramsay would often cook off against a celeb at the end (celeb's signature dish) and then they would have their efforts blind tasted. The non-chef/celeb won a surprising amount of times.

              2. I think the Oxford study is very relevant.

                """It follows from this that blind tasting is the only objective way to come to a conclusion about wine, but something else follows, also, that isn’t generally discussed in these types of conversations: wines of a similar variety and style are more alike than not, even when their scores vary."""

                I am a big believer in blind tastings. I am involved with a group that does a lot of them. I've done about 100 blind tastings of different spirits, mostly bourbon as well as cigars over the last year.

                Most of the times there is a general consensus and standard bell curve in our ratings but sometimes you wonder if we were even drinking or smoking the same thing. I'm surprised at similar tasting notes between participants on many occasions. I would trust my fellow tasters over an expert in the industry in making a purchase.

                While in Sonoma Co. last summer, my wife and I visited several wineries for tastings. When my wife was interested in purchasing wine and was a little uncertain which one she wanted I set up a blind tasting so bottle and price would not be an influence. Just buy the one you like. Really like. I wasn't surprised when she would pick the cheaper of the two, but certainly happy.

                1. I have found, over the years, that I'm my own best expert. "Wine expert," especially, is a laughable term.

                  1. I am lucky enough to have friends who "know" wine and share it. I am always grateful. But to my palate, I have yet to find a bottle I would pay more than $30 for unless buying it as a gift. There are just too many wines at a lower price that taste just as good to me.

                    1. There are experts and then there are experts. When it comes to food, if it's someone I trust, it can and does influence purchasing, but I'd like to think it has little to do with my enjoyment of what I've bought. No amount of expert testimony will ever get me to like Chicken Tikka Masala, but I'm more than willing to try new things on the recommendation of one of "My Experts".


                      1. It depends, to some degree, upon the credentials of the expert. But just as important to me is context and forum. I probably wouldn't pay attention to wine advice on the Red Lobster website; nor would I take restaurant advice from someone who claims in another paragraph to eat Cool Whip every night.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: sandylc

                          Red Slobster popcorn shrimp dredged through Cool Whip is heavenly. Simply divine.

                        2. This whole idea brings up what I've often wondered on food shows: if the judges did blind tastings, would the results be the same? On Iron Chef or Top Chef, for example, they might recognize a cooking style or plating, but based strictly on taste, would the winner still prevail?

                          12 Replies
                          1. re: pine time

                            My family has wondered about the possibility of the winners being preplanned on these shows. What does everyone here think?

                            1. re: sandylc

                              Oh, just hop on over to the latest NICA threads. Tons of various conspiracy theories there. Happy reading.

                              1. re: linguafood

                                Pardon my ignorance....what is NICA?

                                  1. re: linguafood

                                    Ah. Well, it was only idle conversation one evening for us. I don't think I need to become embroiled in the convoluted scandal theories!

                            2. re: pine time

                              Pine Time, YES!

                              A blind tasting, with not only no chef there, but judges actually blindfolded (so skip presentation points). What is that food, those ingredients, that technique?

                              THAT would be a hoot. Boy howdy, I think that would be some show -- the poseurs get trounced! Hah!

                              1. re: alkapal

                                I don't know about you, but I'm not putting anything in my mouth that I can't look at first! Well, maybe if they paid me enough...

                                1. re: alkapal

                                  It would be an interesting episode.

                                  But I disagree with the general notion that only the flavor should matter, or even that flavor is fully distinct from presentation, etc. Expectations play such a huge role in eating that totally removing them from the equation isn't enlightening so much as detrimental to an eating experience.

                                  Everyone has probably heard of the famous experiment where people were given white wine dyed to look like a red wine. And in this experiment, the wine 'experts' were universally fooled, discussing the dyed white wine in terms of a red, while the only people who noticed a kinda-white-wine-ish flavor were less experienced tasters. The common way to interpret these results is to ridicule the notion of a wine expert, and launch an angry populist rant of some sort. But I don't think that's what was really going on. IMO, the wine 'experts' just had a set of expectations that were so strong that they literally experienced some of the tastes they were expecting. Less experienced tasters did not have the burden of these expectations and were thus able to evaluate the wine more accurately based on what was actually in the glass.

                                  Similarly, not long ago, I ate a few slices of dried chorizo (which I grew up eating, btw), thinking it was pepperoni. I could tell that something was very different about that pepperoni, but for the life of me I couldn't say what. I asked about it and was told that it was chorizo. Next slice I ate, it tasted of chorizo, clear as day. Amazing that I couldn't identify it before being told, but my brain kept on looking for the pepperoni flavors it was expecting and wouldn't accept other sensory data.

                                  Sorry for the rant. I just find the subject interesting. I don't think hiding visual and contextual cues makes for a fairer cooking competition. I think it makes for a more unrealistic one, since all that extra data is such a huge part of how you experience flavor in the first place.

                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                    that is an interesting concept -- that the expectations of the wine experts actually led them to taste "red wine" markers.

                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                      I love your chorizo example.

                                      In Israel, there is a snack food - Bamba - that are essentially like cheese puffs that taste of peanut butter. Also Cheetos make a peanut butter flavored Cheeto. It is so jarring to me to think I have a bag of cheese Cheetos, popping one in my mouth and it being "not cheese". Because even though culturally I know the peanut butter flavored puffs, I know they exist, I know their flavors - when I think it's going to be cheese, if it's not it tastes like something went wrong, or is spoiled. Not like peanut butter.

                                      While I like Bamba, I don't think the Cheeto peanut butter ones are very good - but they're not disgusting or spoiled. If they're out at a party, I may casually snack on a few. But those "oops, didn't look carefully" ones always have an initial aggressively bad taste.

                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                        Excellent points and, I agree, very interesting!

                                        I think it was long ago on one of those Gordon Ramsay shows where they blindfolded the contestants and made them identify foods by taste. They gave them very simple foods and they rarely figured out what they were eating...fascinating!

                                  2. Anytime someone says something is the *BEST*....They lose credibility in my eyes. So I really do not put much weight on expert opinions.