Science-- there's something for everyone

Monday, January 31, 2011

For pills, color matters

I’ve written a few stories about how important the placebo effect is when taking medication. It turns out that the color and/or shape of a pill can have dramatic effects on patient outcomes. At the very least, the physical attributes of the pills affect patient compliance in taking the medication.

R.K. Srivastava and Aarti More of the University of Bombay surveyed 600 consumers’ perceptions of a variety of OTC (over the counter) pharmaceutical products. They found that differences in color greatly affected what the participants thought of the drugs, as well as whether they remembered to take them.

Among their findings:

  • 14% thought pink pills were sweeter than red.
  • 11% thought white or blue bills were bitter.
  • 10% said orange pills were sour.
  • Many people thought yellow pills were salty.
  • Middle-aged people and women liked red pills more than young people or men did.
  • Many people said the color and/or shape of the pills helped them remember to take them.

Remember there were no actual differences in taste among these different colors. Needless to say, these findings have implications not only for pharmaceutical companies trying to sell their wares, but also for health professionals trying to ensure compliance in their patients.