People tend to strongly believe that pharmaceutical drugs with simpler and easier-to-pronounce names have fewer dangerous side effects, according to a study in the Journal of Health Psychology.
In three experimental studies, Simone Dohle and Michael Siegrist of the University of ETH Zurich provided groups of participants with names of imaginary medications. The researchers then asked the participants to rate the medications on how many hazardous side effects they believed the drugs had, and on how willing they would be to take or buy the drugs.
Participants consistently rated medications with easier-to-pronounce names to be safer — even though they rated them the same as complicated-sounding drugs in terms of effectiveness.
“In three studies, we found strong evidence that fluency is most relevant for evaluations of drug names,” wrote the researchers. “In general, people judged drugs with simple names as safer, assumed that those drugs had fewer side effects and were more willing to buy those drugs.”
They suggested the findings had importance for medication adherence, and that the results would likely have been even stronger with people with real illnesses evaluating real medications. “Quite possibly, people may react differently when they are really affected by a disease,” wrote the researchers. “However, the existing literature shows that the influence of heuristic cues (such as the complexity of a name) is even more pronounced when people are stressed and distracted. Accordingly, we may have even underestimated the effect of a drug name’s complexity on people’s evaluations and preferences.”
(Abstract) Fluency of pharmaceutical drug names predicts perceived hazardousness, assumed side effects and willingness to buy (Dohle, Simone and Siegrist, Michael. Journal of Health Psychology. October 2014 vol. 19 no. 10 1241-1249. doi: 10.1177/1359105313488974)