Behavioral economics, Cognitive taste, Fearless Critic, Food

Can people distinguish pâté from dog food?

As reported by Jerry Hirsch in today’s LA Times, my latest research article, co-authored with John Bohannon (the “Gonzo Scientist”) of Harvard University and Alexis Herschkowitsch of Fearless Critic Media, discusses the results of a blind tasting that we conducted of five puréed meat-based products. Although 72% of subjects ranked the dog food as the worst of the five samples in terms of taste (Newell and MacFarlane multiple comparison, P<0.05), subjects were not better than random at correctly identifying the dog food.


The article has just been posted as a working paper (pdf) with the American Association of Wine Economists.


  1. Kent Wang

    I don’t see this as humans eating dog food, but dogs getting to eat pate!

  2. Justine

    I would like to do this, especially given my predilection for salter, semi-preserved forms of meat…

  3. dm

    I read the article. I think it’s great. Do you think that the percentage of people who identified the dog food as worst tasting would have been smaller if you hadn’t told participants beforehand that at least one of the mousses was dog food?

    My guess: telling participants likely skewed the results. It primed people to pay very close attention, and that attention helped participants to better perceive which of the five tasted worst. Had they not been paying such close attention, more participants would have chosen one of the other four mousses as worst.

    I wonder if this “Attention Effect” has a broader applicability. Perhaps it explains why people enjoy wine more when they think it’s worth $100 than *that same wine* when they think it’s worth $10. In Wine Trials you highlight the social/cultural explanation for this type of phenomenon: when people believe wine is worth more, they get all sorts of feelings of social and cultural affirmation which increases pleasure. But you could think about the phenomenon as a matter of attention: when people drink wine that they believe costs $100, they pay closer attention, and that attention allows them to better perceive the pleasant aspects of the taste.

  4. At this point the question is:

    Is Dog food made with natural ingredients and no preservatives fit also for human consumption?

    Because if it is….there is nothing to worry.
    In that case , hey I know what to offer this week end for my birthday.

    The only thing: I would be very pissed off to pay pate’ foie gras money for dog food “pate'”.
    That’s the only down side.

  5. I wanted to compliment the author on an exceptional post.

  6. I think this is nice post on dog food. Los Angeles is place where people love there dogs. this dog food survey will be loved by dogs and dogs lover.

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