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Perception is reality – but what about the other way around?

By MIT CIO | April 13, 2008

While researching a new talk, I came across a study on the role the brain plays in adjusting reality to better fit our perceptions. Think about that for a second. In support we have long believed that perceptions become a customer’s reality. But this research shows that even realities like touch and taste can be altered by our perceptions.

wine.jpgExpectations have long been studied by psychologists. What we expect plays a big role in determining how effective certain medications are, for example. Now there is additional research showing the brain does even more active ‘adjusting’ of our senses than previously thought. Consider the following experiment done on volunteers by scientists from Caltech and Stanford.Volunteers were asked to take a sip of wine, swish it in their mouths for six seconds, swallow it and then rate it. Before they tasted each wine, they were told what the wine cost (between $5 and $90 a bottle). The catch? The wine prices were random and arbitrary. But you can probably guess the results. When rating how much they liked the wine, they gave the more “expensive” wines higher scores.

By the way, the study did not rely solely on subjective ratings. The medial orbitofrontal cortex of each volunteer’s brain was also scanned. Their synapses confirmed objectively what the volunteers said in terms of which wines tasted better.

This experiment was repeated (without the brain scans) on the Stanford wine club with similar results. Even among these oenophiles, the wines the subjects believed were more expensive received higher ratings.

CalTech associate professor of economics Antonio Rangel, one of the authors, said the most interesting part of the study is that how pleasant an experience will be depends not only on the experience itself, but in our belief of what the experience will be like.

Think about this in the context of your organization. What are your customers’ expectations of your service? Do they approach you with dread because of all the rules and restrictions you cite every time they ask for something? Or do your customers look forward to interacting with you, because they know (expect) you to be competent and to have their best interests at heart?


– Phil Verghis

*Trusted Advisor to Service & Support Executives*

Topics: Improving Workforce Efficiency & Reducing IT Barriers | No Comments »

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