The preference for Coke versus Pepsi is not only a matter for the tongue to decide, Samuel McClure and his colleagues have found. Brain scans of people tasting the soft drinks reveal that knowing which drink theyre tasting affects their preference and activates memory-related brain regions that recall cultural influences. Thus, say the researchers, they have shown neurologically how a culturally based brand image influences a behavioral choice.
These choices are affected by perception, wrote the researchers, because "there are visual images and marketing messages that have insinuated themselves into the nervous systems of humans that consume the drinks." Even though scientists have long believed that such cultural messages affect taste perception, there had been no direct neural probes to test the effect, wrote the researchers. Findings about the effects of such cultural information on the brain have important medical implications, they wrote. "There is literally a growing crisis in obesity, type II diabetes, and all their sequelae that result directly from or are exacerbated by overconsumption of calories. It is now strongly suspected that one major culprit is sugared colas," they wrote.
Besides the health implications of studying soft drink preference, the researchers decided to use Coke and Pepsi because-- even though the two drinks are nearly identical chemically and physically--people routinely strongly favor one over the other. Thus, the two soft drinks made excellent subjects for rigorous experimental studies.
Heidi Hardman | EurekAlert!
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