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Price Plays Part in Perceived Power of Medication
Date:3/4/2008

People report cheap drugs are less effective, researchers find

TUESDAY, March 4 (HealthDay News) -- When people think that a medication is expensive, they tend to report more benefit than when they think the drug is cheap, a new study finds.

In fact, 85 percent of people given what they thought was an expensive painkiller said they had reduction in pain, compared with 61 percent of those given the same pill, which they were told was cheap. Most surprisingly, both were the same placebo pill.

"When we gave people medication, a pain placebo, which was discounted, it was less effective," said lead researcher Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist and visiting professor of marketing at Duke University, and author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.

A placebo works on the power of expectations, Ariely explained. "When people doubt the efficacy, the efficacy goes down, in this case because of a discount," he said. "The interesting thing is that marketing variables that have nothing to do with the medication modulate expectation, and therefore can modulate the efficacy of medication."

The report is in the March 5 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In the study, Ariely's team gave 82 people a light electric shock to measure their perception of pain. This test was given before and after the individuals were given what they were told was a pain pill.

Half the people were given a brochure that described a new painkiller that cost $2.50 a dose. The remaining individuals were given a brochure that described the pill as having been marked down to 10 cents.

The researchers found that among those who thought the pill cost $2.50, 85 percent reported having pain relief. However, for those given the 10-cent pill, only 61 percent reported any pain relief.

"When you expect to get something on discount, and you expected
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