Friday, June 15, 2007

Advertisers can get us to harm our health

When will the average American start believing what his frontal lobes tell him? It seems that we are very easily influenced to act against the advice of our own reasoning capacity. A recent post on Sharon Begley's blog, Lab Notes, says that 36% if us will go along with an unwise suggestion if we like the way it sounds.

Begley writes:

"In a disturbing study from Canada, scientists find that names can strongly influence decisions patients make about treatment.

"To investigate what role a name plays, scientists at McMaster University started out by showing volunteer patients information on the benefits and harms of various treatment options...

"The treatment options were labeled "treatment A," "treatment B" and "treatment C," ...virtually all (96 percent) of the participants said [an educational presentation] helped them choose among the three treatments.

"Then the scientists replaced A, B and C with the treatment's true name "warfarin, acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) and "no treatment."

"36 percent of the patients changed their initial choice, including 46 percent of those who initially chose warfarin and 78 percent who initially chose no treatment, the scientists are reporting this evening in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

"Although they grasped the risks and benefits, that rational decision was trumped by the pull of the name, or the belief that no treatment (which is actually the best option in some cases) must be the worst choice. No wonder drug advertising is so effective."

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