It’s Worth The Price, If You Believe It Is

April 22, 2015

It’s Worth the Price, If You Believe It Is

We’re all chasing a little experienced pleasantness. That’s not just an abstract concept, researchers can measure activity in a particular area of the brain thought to correspond with enjoying things (the medial orbitofrontal cortex, if you need to know). I was recently reminded of a 2008 study in which subjects drank several wines, some cheap, some expensive. Or so they were told–some of the samples they tried were the same wine, but marked with different prices. Subjects reported enjoying the more expensive wines more; not surprising, the value of wine is a slippery thing and cultural pressure pushes us to show off our taste by enjoying nice things, like expensive wine. But MRIs of the subjects’ brains showed more activity in the right areas–more experienced pleasantness. They weren’t lying, they really got more pleasure from wine when they thought it was more expensive.

No one that I know of has done a similar study with clothing, but I’d bet a Givenchy tshirt results would be similar. This isn’t quite the same concept as the neurological pleasures of fast fashion, in which you get a jolt from buying, and from getting a deal. It’s that once you have something, if you feel it’s more valuable, you enjoy it more. You’ve probably felt the real effect of this when you saved up for something you considered an indulgence: maybe you mostly thrift or ebay your suits but saved for a new one from Ralph Lauren. When you wear that RL suit, you feel like a couple of thousand bucks.

That’s also the marketing logic behind the arguably inflated retail prices you sometimes see on ebay (RETAILS FOR $1400!!!1! BIN $50) or Yoox, and in brands whose primary marketplace differentiation is their price. These clothes can justify their cost as paying for finer materials, more craftsmanship, marketing, innovative design (much as wine prices are affected by origin, supply and demand, agricultural practices, etc.); but the pleasure you derive from them may come at least in part from the price itself. I don’t know; I just bought a $250 shirt, and my medial orbitofrontal cortex is PUMPING right now.


Photo illustration: Lance Page