Distrustful tastebuds

Senior tests placebo effect with cookie experiment


Photo by Braylen Garren

Hands grab at a plate of cookies. Senior Aislyn Echols investigated the legitimacy of the placebo effect through a taste test.

Story by Aislyn Echols, Opinion Editor

The placebo effect is a psychological theory in which a patient with a non-viral or bacterial alignment is told they are being given a drug to cure them when in actuality they are given a fake drug. The patient believes that they are getting the real drug, so they feel psychologically cured themselves.

Not much is known as to why the placebo effect takes place. Researchers have theorized why this takes place from hormone responses to actual genetics.

I wanted to test this theory to see if a person could actually psych themselves out into thinking they are feeling, or in this case tasting, a difference. Though, being in high school and not wanting to drug my classmates, I used cookies as a substitute for pills.

Most people can agree that homemade items are better than store bought items. Homemade typically evokes a feeling and mental image of warmth and positive emotions. When thinking of the store, people typically think of emotionless employees making food just to get a paycheck.

I want to know if this mind-over-matter phenomenon would truly change the taste of the same cookie.

The experiment

I bought a pack of cookies from the store and split them in half on two different plates. Keep in mind that I changed nothing about the cookies themselves. I made sure that each plate had the same amount of cookies on each and that all the cookies were kept in the exact same environment.

I told each participant that I made one batch of cookies at my house and the other batch I simply bought from a store that morning. After eating one cookie from each batch, I asked each participant which one they preferred and why. 

The results

There were 11 test subjects in total. Out of those 11, nine of them believed that they could taste a difference in the cookies, leaving two unfooled taste buds. Of those nine, seven believed that the “homemade” cookies tasted better than the “store” bought.

Some of the justifications made by those who chose the homemade cookies were:

  • “The homemade cookies taste better because they’re softer and not overwhelmingly sweet.”
  • “[I prefer] the homemade cookies [because they are] moist and have a high chocolate content. [They] honestly just have a better texture and [are] more flavorful. Tastes like emotions [were] actually put into the cookies instead of a machine.”
  • “[With] the homemade cookies, you can taste the chips; [they have] more flavor. The store bought cookies [are] very dull. Not a lot of textures, not much flavor and cold.”

The experiment went exactly as expected. People can truly psych themselves out into thinking they can taste a difference. This may be a small scale experiment, but the results will go as further proof of this mysterious phenomenon.