Good wine or cheap wine? It is if you expect it to be…

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I just had to look this up after hearing it on NPR (National Public Radio).  The article (http://lifehacker.com/5990737/why-we-cant-tell-good-wine-from-bad) describes a couple of studies where setting up “expectations” can lead to wine experts believing a cheap wine is expensive and vice-versa.

In the first study (conducted at University of Bordeaux in 2001), same white wine was served in two separate glasses with one of them dyed to look as though it was a red.  Aspiring sommeliers weren’t able to tell that they were both white; presumably distracted by the color difference.

In the second study (this time at Cal Tech), experimenters swapped the labels from cheap and expensive wines to see if there would be a difference. They didn’t go into details except that when subjects thought they were tasting the more expensive wines (upper range = $90), a specific region of the brain became active and this was consistent across subjects – seemingly indicating again that one’s expectations drives judgment.

I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the studies just mentioned and job interviews.  I suspect the same or similar mechanisms are involved in interviewing contexts in which the interviewer’s initial expectations lead him/her to quickly switch to “confirmation” mode – selectively filtering-in information deemed consistent with what he/she already believes to be true.  This phenomenon, aka “confirmation bias” and, more broadly, “self-fulfilling prophesy,” is pervasive in our everyday lives; I mean we do this all the time. Unfortunately, in the context of candidate screening, it can lead companies to pull the trigger on the wrong candidate…

What if we were to do an experiment where an interviewer is presented with two very different resumes – one of a superstar and the other, a so so candidate.  Would you expect to see different parts of the interviewer’s brain light up?


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