How Pleasure Works: Why we like what we like

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It's hard to deny the evidence of our senses.


It doesn't feel like we're being influenced. Bloom says that pleasure is synthesized from multiple sources. Oenophiles aren't likely to confuse water or vinegar and wine, but when the taste and smell are in the right ballpark, other factors come into play without our being aware. What we believe about the essence of what we encounter defines our impressions and experiences.

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If we went by our senses alone, a block of gold and an indistinguishable gold-colored block would be worth the same. But even if chemical analysis were the only way to distinguish them, we would still believe one is worthless while the other is extremely valuable.

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While that value might reflect a market reality, the existence of the market itself can be traced back to a belief about the essence of gold. If flavor alone mattered, a beautifully prepared steak could taste delicious even after the chef announced it didn't come from a cow but from a Great Dane. Bottled water offers an interesting case study of how several factors can be layered in our choice of products and the pleasure they give us. When people choose bottled water over tap, they're paying for something that can be free.

Taste certainly isn't the deciding factor.

How Pleasure Works by Paul Bloom

Bloom sees this as further evidence of the signaling theory. If bottled water tasted much better, then having it wouldn't signal that you are richer than everyone else," he says. However, in addition to the signaling, Bloom sees essentialism underlying the pleasure. When we understand something as authentic or special or unique, that is foundational to our experience of it. Still you want the original Rolex.

How Pleasure Works : Paul Bloom :

You want the Picasso rather than the knockoff. My argument is that is simply the way the mind works. My claim is that it is not just flim-flam. It is not people saying they enjoy these things more to show off.

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  • You enjoy the Rolex much more if you believe it is an original and not a knockoff. A study found that Coke gave more pleasure when consumed from a cup with a brand logo.

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    In another study, subjects drank Coke and Pepsi squirted into their mouths while they were in an fMRI machine. The scan showed that during a blind taste test, only the "reward center" of the brain activated; when the subjects were told which brand they were tasting, multiple parts of the brain activated as the participants shifted to their pre-existing brand preferences. But being unable to distinguish Coke from Pepsi or Perrier from tap water doesn't necessarily lead to any change in preference. I think you actually taste the bottled water as different if you believe it comes from a pure source.

    We really do enjoy these things more, because that is how pleasure works.

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