The Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois looks and feels just like a restaurant. That’s because, in a sense, it is. It’s also a lab where consumer psychologists take a glimpse into the working of the human mind and its relationship to food.

One night, half of the restaurant/lab prior to their meal was given a complimentary glass of a fine Cabernet Sauvignon from a new California winery. The other half was given a complimentary glass of Cab, but this time from a new North Dakota winery.

In truth, both groups were poured the same beverage (a cheap but drinkable red wine) but were told it originated from two different places: one known for its good wine, the other known for its…buffalo!

The meals they ate were identical but the two groups had a dining experience that was considerably different. The “California wine” group ate 11% more of their meal and lingered an average of 10 minutes longer. The “North Dakota wine” group not only left more food on their plates but left in less than an hour!

“Exact same meals, exact same wine. Different labels, different reactions.”

So why such a different experience? Well, once the California group enjoyed their complimentary wine, they expected the meal to be enjoyable. Conversely, the North Dakota group expected just the opposite. Once the expectations were in place, “they no longer had to stop and think about whether the food and wine were really as good as they thought. They had already decided.”

Like many other studies in Brian Wansink’s book Mindless Eating, the subjects never believe labels or size or the lighting in a room influences them. Most give a resounding “no” when asked. Nobody likes to believe they are so easily led.

Wansink concludes:

“That is what gives mindless eating so much power over us – we’re not aware it’s happening.”