Why We’re Irrational When We Order a Beer
Is studying the psychology of a beer drinker like studying the psychology of a fruit fly? Shallow and futile?
I like to think we have a few more marbles rolling around, and it seems we can even offer valuable insights into human behavior.
What brings this up is a study in a book I just finished called Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. I highly recommend it by the way.
The study took place at the Carolina Brewery in Chapel Hill and went like this:
- Ariely, posing as a waiter, approached a group of people and announce that the brewery was offering free samples. He then described the four beers: An amber, lager, IPA, and wheat.
- Ariely then asked one of the patrons what they wanted and proceeded down the line taking beer orders.
- After drinking their samples, the participants filled out a survey asking them how much they enjoyed their beer and if they regretted their order.
- The experiment was conducted 50 times, and then repeated another 50 times but with a twist. The twist was that instead of ordering their beer out loud, the participants wrote down their beer orders, thus keeping them private.
The results? Here is Ariely:
“We found that when people order out loud in sequence, they choose differently from when they order in private. When ordering sequentially (publicly), they order more types of beer per table – in essence opting for variety. A basic way to understand this is by thinking about the Summer Wheat Ale. This brew was not very attractive to most people. But when the other beers were “taken,” our participants felt that they had to choose something different – perhaps to show the others – and so they chose a different beer, one they may not have initially wanted but one that conveyed their individuality.”
Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the same study conducted with food in Hong Kong yielded the opposite results. The participants were more likely to order the same dish as the person ahead of them. Americans cared more about uniqueness while the Chinese cared more about conformity.
What does this mean? I know that personally I would have acted exactly how this study predicted, but for different reasons. As a beer geek I often put trying as many different beers as possible over drinking the best beer every time I go out.
I do notice this trend when out drinking in large groups though. They key is that there has to be a good selection available. If it’s all BMC beer and Fat Tire, then we’re going to have a table full of Fat Tire.
What about you? Do the people at your table tend to order different beers, or are there usually repeats?
p.s. I apologies for insulting fruit flies for my personal gain.