Skip to content ↓

Study sees mental link between drug price, effectiveness

A higher-priced medication with a brand name might work better than a generic version--even if the pills are exactly the same--simply because the patient thinks the expensive prescription should work better, according to a recently published MIT study.

The study--conducted by researchers including graduate student Rebecca Waber and Dan Ariely, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Behavioral Economics at MIT--involved 82 volunteers who were given identical placebos that were supposed to be a new pain medication. But the volunteers were told the pills had different costs, with some getting pills supposedly costing 10 cents, and some getting $2.50 pills.

Results of the study, which appeared in the March 5 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that those who were told the pill cost more reported feeling less pain from a series of electrical shocks to the wrist. Those told the pill only cost 10 cents reported feeling more pain on average.

The results may impact how generic medication and brand-name medication are marketed, packaged and distributed, and help explain "the popularity of high-cost medical therapies over inexpensive, widely available alternatives," according to the study.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 19, 2008 (download PDF).

Related Links

Related Topics

More MIT News

Photo of Annauk Olin with her husband and baby

Saving Iñupiaq

Linguistics graduate student Annauk Olin is helping her Alaska Native community preserve their language and navigate the severe impact of climate change.

Read full story