The Illusion of Getting What you pay for

Jonah Lehrer reports on an experiment:

"Baba Shiv, a neuroeconomist at Stanford, supplied a group of people with Sobe Adrenaline Rush, an 'energy; drink that was supposed to make them feel more alert and energetic. (The drink contained a potent brew of sugar and caffeine which, the bottle promised, would impart 'superior functionality.') Some participants paid full price for the drinks, while others were offered a discount. The participants were then asked to solve a series of word puzzles. Shiv found that people who paid discounted prices consistently solved about thirty percent fewer puzzles than the people who paid full price for the drinks."

Marketing people will tell you that people value things more if they pay more for them -- here's proof that this illusion can actually enhance intellectual performance.

Based on this, one might predict that someone who pays for an anthology of short stories will get more out of the stories -- he or she will understand more deeply what's going on in them, the cascade of pleasure explosions he or she experiences will have profounder life-changing import -- than would have been the case if he or she had read the same anthology free of charge. This too could be tested experimentally -- have people rank books A and B on a scale of one to ten, one group would pay full price for A and get B free, another group would get A free and pay full price for B, there could also be a sort of examination afterwards to quantify how deeply subjects had engaged with the books...

When people say they achieve a deeper immersion experience reading offline than reading online, how much of that's attibutable to the Sobe Adrenaline Rush effect? What are the implications here for the business models of literary webzines?

5 thoughts on “The Illusion of Getting What you pay for”

  1. The placebo effect, as demonstrated through history in such scientifically bankrupt “cures” as acupuncture, faith healing, etc is hugely powerful. Perceived value is the same thing. People who pay high prices for “Jenny Craig” food will lose weight much faster than those who make the same food for themselves.
    Cool stuff, especially in a world where creators will have to price their own online content. So… James, why is your blog free?

  2. From now on, every time you read one of my blog posts, you have to send me money. They’ll be more mentally stimulating for you that way.

    I wonder if anyone’s ever done a study on whether stolen fruit actually tastes better.

  3. David Gleeson

    Don’t know about stolen fruit, but a study of spiders on mars determined that the bitter comes out better on a stolen guitar.

    The inherent meaninglessness of that statement would seem to indicate the presence of one or more intoxicants. More Sobe Adrenaline Rush, anyone? Or perhaps another line of Stardust?

  4. I wonder if the subjects who paid more for the Sobe Adrenaline Rush put more mental effort into solving the puzzles in an attempt to get their money’s worth.

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