Watch Out: Don’t judge a drug by its TV ads

Ever wonder why those drug ads on TV go on and on and on and on, boring you to tears by listing every single possible side effect and potential negative consequence of taking that drug (“boring to tears” is a well-known common side effect of drug advertising, by the way)?

Easy: Listing every single thing that might happen to you when you convince the doctor to let you take one of their little pills is actually good business for the maker of that pill.

Which runs counter to common sense, of course, because common sense says that if you hear a long list of potential negatives from something you’re about to take, you might hesitate to take it.

But in a neat report in the journal Nature Human Behavior, in a series of studies researchers showed that listing a whole lot of minor side effects from a drug diluted the effect of paying attention to the important potential complications and made that drug seem more benign than it actually was.

In other words, like in many other situations in real life, over-loading someone with a lot of information, some of it meaningful, a lot of it inconsequential, dilutes the effect of the most important information.