Professor Garry with her equipment.

There is now scientific proof the last whisky you drink tends to be the one you like the best.

Researchers including University of Waikato’s Professor Maryanne Garry (and led by PhD student Adele Quigley-McBride of Iowa State) used data from 136 whisky tastings held between 2002 and 2013 at a liquor store in Wellington.

Professor Garry says there is a whole branch of psychology that tries to help us understand how people make judgements, express preferences, make choices – in all kinds of situations, all the time. “What shirt am I going to wear, what university am I going to, what job offer shall I take, what shall I buy at the grocery store? So a better understanding of how we make choices is a worthwhile endeavour.”

In the case of the whisky tasting research, people from around Wellington, experts to novices, were hosted by the same man for over a decade, with information he meticulously collected. Each guest was given a “tasting sheet,” with seven whiskies lined up in an unknown order, with space underneath for tasters to  write comments and scores. If you are wondering, a standard whisky tasting pour is significantly less than the usual dram – around 20 to 22 milliliters. After the tasting, people could also go back and further taste-test and refine their scores if they wished.

The research team found that although alcohol content and the age of the whisky mattered to people, “they chose the last whisky as their favorite more often than whiskies in other positions in the lineup.”

Professor Garry says the study isn’t about whisky itself. “It’s about determining the extent to which a well-known bias scientists can find in laboratories still occurs in the complexity of the real world. And what we discovered is that this one specific bias does. It's pretty amazing that over ten years of data, more than 100 whisky tastings and hundreds of whiskies, when people made decisions about which of those whiskies was the best, we kept seeing this specific bias to pick the last whisky.

She wondered if maybe the liquor store simply saved the best whisky for last – the oldest one, or the with the highest alcohol. The answer is no. “Even after we took those important factors in to account, people tended to like the last whisky in the lineup the best.”

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