Does drinking wine affect how sophisticated you seem?
Few beverages have as much history, popularity, and notoriety as wine. It’s been around for millennia, dating back to biblical times. Indeed, Jesus was known to have turn water into wine at a wedding party (and pretty good wine at that). 2,000 years later, the beverage is still being served at celebrations, restaurants, and on the tables of homes around the world.
In pop culture, wine is often depicted as a refined drink. Nothing quite says sophistication in a movie like a 1945 Rothschild from the Bordeaux region of France. But wine can also summon images of a snobby or self-centered person. And for all its feel-good effects, concerns about the effects of alcohol on one’s health and the well-being of others has left a stain on the industry.
So we ask, in addition to impairing our inhibitions, does wine imbue the drinker with an air of sophistication? Or do such perceptions fall flat?
We ran an experiment with 400 people on Amazon Mechanical Turk in which participants were told to “Imagine you’re meeting up with a new co-worker at a nearby restaurant after work. Your co-worker places an order and asks for a glass of [water / wine] (pictured below).” Unbeknownst to participants, we randomly assigned whether they saw “water” or “wine” and the corresponding image below.
Participants were then asked, "How sophisticated do you think this co-worker is? (i.e., has good cultural taste)" and responded by answering on a 1-7 scale (1 = Not at all, 7 = Extremely).
Our wine-drinking coworker was indeed rated higher in sophistication than our water drinker. We found a small-to-medium sized difference between drinking water (avg. = 4.41) and drinking wine (avg. = 4.83), about a 10% boost in perceived sophistication (p < 0.001). There were no significant interactions with wine vs. water and age, gender, or frequency of drinking alcohol, as measured by survey questions at the end of our study.
So, if you’re in a social situation and need to appear more sophisticated, and you don’t mind imbibing, a glass of wine may do the trick. Of course, this leaves open the question… red or white? Stay tuned for the next experiment.
We used an independent samples t-test to test for significant differences in perceptions between our hypothetical water and wine drinker, For significant differences, the coefficient would be large and its corresponding “p-value” would be small. If the p-value is less than 0.05, we consider the difference statistically significant. To test for interactions (a difference in the differences) between the main results and participants' age, gender, or alcohol consumption habits, we used OLS regression analyses with interaction terms.