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Dec 24, 2011 12:52 AM

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 (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.