Imagine a tall skinny glass filled with water. Now watch me transfer all of the water from that glass into a short fat glass. Which glass contained more liquid—the tall skinny one or the short fat one? The answer is obvious. Both glasses had the same amount. Even though the appearance of the liquid has changed (in a wide glass, it appears to contain less), it is obvious that it is the same quantity.
Children under the age of seven see it differently. Most will tell you that the tall, skinny glass had more liquid. Why? Because their interpretation is based on appearance, not rational thinking.
Adults may be better than children at understanding abstract concepts, but appearance is deceiving regardless of age. This seems certainly to be the case when it comes to pouring wine.
Researchers at Cornell University and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands asked participants in the study to practice pouring wine into two kinds of glasses—short fat ones and tall skinny ones. They found that people pour 30% more wine into short fat glasses than they pour into tall skinny ones. Participants had absolutely no idea that they had poured more wine into the short fat glasses. In fact, most believed they had poured more wine into the tall skinny ones.
Even experienced bartenders were not immune to this effect—they poured 20.5% more wine into short fat glasses.
It seems that we serve wine based on how it looks in the glass. If the height of the liquid is high, we assume we have poured enough. If the height of the liquid is low, well, bottoms up. Based on the illusion, we confuse height with volume.
Given this study, I began to wonder about what wine glasses say about us. Do the glasses we use speak volumes (no pun intended)? I did a quick survey of my friends-an overwhelming majority serve wine in short fat glasses. Honey, I’m home.