Diners believe a meal is tastier, the more they have paid for it, US academic research has revealed.
People who eat expensive food perceive it to be tastier than the same meal offered at a lower price, the Cornell University study found.
The researchers concluded that taste perception and feelings of overeating and guilt can be manipulated by price alone.
The New York University study examined the eating habits of 139 people enjoying an Italian buffet in an upstate restaurant.
The price of the food was set by the researchers at either $4 (£2.40) or $8 (£4.70) for the all-you-can-eat meal.
The people who paid $8 for the food enjoyed their meal 11 per cent more than those who ate the “cheaper” buffet, although both ate the same amount of food.
Participants, who ate from the lesser priced buffet, did not enjoy their meal as much and reported frequent feelings of overeating and guilt about loading up their plates.
“We were fascinated to find that pricing has little impact on how much one eats, but a huge impact on how you interpret the experience,” said Brian Wansink, a professor at the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.
“Simply cutting the price of food at a restaurant dramatically affects how customers evaluate and appreciate the food.”
He added: “If you're a consumer and want to eat at a buffet, the best thing to do is eat at the most expensive buffet you can afford. You won't eat more, but you'll have a better experience overall.”
In another experiment, scientists found that people who eat in dim lighting consume 175 less calories than people who eat in brightly lit areas.
Wansink said the study was “an example of how a really small change can transform how a person interacts with food in a way that doesn't entail dieting.”