A couple of months back I posted a video that illustrated the way that our expectations shape our perceptions. In it, Jimmy Kimmel gave people an iPhone 4 but told them it was an iPhone 5. Believing they were holding a neat new Apple product, they identify a range of features that make it clearly superior — often holding it up to their identical iPhone 4s and perceiving significant differences between the two.

Following up on this theme, Kimmel followed up by asking people on the street to try two cups of coffee and tell him which one had the new $7-per-cup premium coffee from Starbucks and which had a cheap brand. Except both cups of coffee were actually full of the same, non-premium, non-Starbucks coffee. Nonetheless, a number of testers immediately identify striking differences in taste between the two options, providing specific differences in quality that they think distinguish the coffees. It’s a fun illustration of a basic aspect of human cognition — that what we expect to see or experience affects how we interpret the sensory information we encounter:

Thanks to Dmitriy T.C. for the tip!

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.
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