Pricing: food for thought from an Ig Nobel Prize winner

The more expensive the placebo, the better it works

Dan Ariely recently picked up an Ig Nobel medicine prize for proving the remarkable power of perceived value.

Ariely gave two groups of volunteers identical placebo painkillers. He told one group the pills cost $2.50 each and the other that they were cheap pills, just 10 cents each.

While the volunteers didn’t have to pay, those who took the costly fake pills felt much less pain from subsequent electric shocks than those who took the bargain-bin fakes (Journal of the American Medical Association, vol 299, p 1016).

The research concludes that price clearly affects expectations of – and response to – drugs. The more expensive the pill the better it works, even when it is a fake with zero therapeutic value. The marketing implications? Hm… interesting!