When it comes to wine tasting, pleasure is in the price.

Using brain scanners to monitor the minds of wine drinkers, scientists found that people given two identical red wines got more pleasure from tasting the one they were told cost more.

The study, in Monday's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrated for the first time how marketing tactics -- such as raising the price of a product -- can cause the brain to play tricks on itself.

Researchers led by Antonio Rangel at the California Institute of Technology asked 20 volunteers to rank their enjoyment of five differently priced Cabernet Sauvignons while a magnetic resonance imaging machine monitored the brain response.

Unbeknownst to volunteers, two sets of samples were identical -- the $5 and $45 wines ($5 actual price) and the $10 and $90 wines ($90 actual price). The fifth wine was identified by its actual $35 price. Volunteers were asked to rank the pleasantness of the wines. They liked the $90 wine best and the $5 wine least.

Brain scans showed that activity in the part of the brain that detects pleasure also moved in lock-step with price. But when tasters didn't know the prices, they rated the $5 wine as better than any of the others sampled.


A popular cholesterol-lowering drug failed to help slow the build-up of artery-clogging plaque in a long-awaited study, the companies that market the medication said, raising questions about whether its use should be limited. The drug, Vytorin -- a combination of Zetia and Zocor -- also did not reduce the thickness of plaque lining artery walls, a disappointment for Merck/Schering-Plough Pharmaceuticals.

Experts said the findings mark a major blow for the medications. "This is stunning," said Steven Nissen, a Cleveland Clinic cardiologist who was not involved in the research. "I do not believe it should be used as a first line therapy. It should only be used as a last resort."

The companies disputed Nissen's conclusions. Previous studies have shown Zetia and Vytorin are effective at lowering cholesterol, but other medications that do this have been shown to have additional benefits, such as slowing the build-up of plaque or even shrinking it.