Do expensive drugs treat better?

Oh, the power of perception! It is amazing how complex human nature is and how little we know about the inner-workings of our brains. I was driving home last night and this short report got my attention as I was listening to Public Radio on my car stereo. The scientists from American Medical Association have found that a drug’s price has a significant effect on whether it works or not.

Jeff Tyler: Participants thought they were testing a new drug for pain relief. In fact, everybody got placebos. Only one difference. Some were told the pills cost $2.50, while others were told they only cost a dime. Dan Ariely, author of “Predictably Irrational,” was the lead researcher.

Dan Ariely: What we found was that the expensive pill reduced pain to a much larger degree than the cheap pills.

This somewhat changes my view on the “should I use brand name or generic” dilemma. Even though both have the same active ingredients you might actually be better off using the more expensive brand name drug because in that case your brains will be on your side helping you fight the disease.

What do you think, does this scientific research have legs or is it a secret ploy with pharmaceutical companies trying to sway public opinion? Another thing I am wondering about is if this study could be applied to consumer products as well. Do things sold by Walmart look just as attractive to you as the same products sold elsewhere?

Source: Expensive placebos work better from Marketplace @ Public Radio

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5 Responses to “Do expensive drugs treat better?”

  1. 1 I like to save money. Mar 6th, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    I have seen other tests like this, and it does work like that on pain-killer type pills, but I don’t think there’s quite a difference on pills like blood pressure or cholosterol ones.
    I think people believe the higher priced items at places like Macys are somehow better than ones at walmart. Probably even the same fruit of the loom underpants are probably more highly regarded at a more expensive store.
    Its just a weird mentality, but as frugal consumers like we are here, the goal is to educate the masses that paying more isn’t necessarily better.

  2. 2 Yan Mar 6th, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    Wherever there is a quantitative metric to measure the result the other factors give way and it becomes pure math.

    In your case with blood pressure and cholesterol, since there is an easy way to measure both, the price you pay becomes irrelevant as long as you see the result. Not so with headache which can be (and often is) a product of your imagination.

    This is why branding is very important with consumer products. If you build that perception factor you can charge twice your competitors’ price and get away with it

  3. 3 Mike G. Mar 6th, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    Yan, now that you’ve told us about the specific details of the placebo effect for more expensive drugs, the price factor placebo should have no impact, right?

  4. 4 Yan Mar 6th, 2008 at 9:31 pm

    Yeah, it is just a spoon. :-) I was playing tennis yesterday and I lost the game (in my head) while driving to the tennis club before I even hit the ball! I simply convinced myself I was not in shape that morning.

  5. 5 Mike Allen Mar 7th, 2008 at 11:17 am

    Interesting study and one that says a lot about the mind’s inner workings — at least for some people.

    I think there tends to be a perception that the same product sold at a more prestigious store is better than if it were sold at Walmart. I’m guessing that even the exact same product sold at Target would get ranked as better than its counterpart sitting on a Walmart shelf.

    This scenario probably has to do with our “first impression sense” which is hard to overrule logically. If we believe Target or Macy’s is better or more prestigious then we extrapolate that feeling to all the products on their shelves. Thus we become biased from the start and are willing to pay more based on the feeling we are getting more.

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