Expensive = Good

I heard an interesting story today on “Marketplace“.  A study conducted on a pain reliever that wasn’t.  Every person in the study was given a placebo.  A sugar pill.  The difference was some were told the pills cost $2.50 … and others were told the pills cost a dime.  And the results?  The people who were given the “expensive” pills reported they relieved their pain better than the same sugar pills that supposedly cost only a dime.


It makes me think a couple of things.  First, the human brain is an amazing thing.  Told the pills will releive pain, the pain subsides.  The placebo effect is well documented, but it never fails to impress.  Maybe there is something to Professer Howard Hill’s “Think System”.  “If you can think The Minuet in ‘G’ … you can PLAY The Minuet in ‘G'”.  Musicians call that playing by ear, and those that can do it have a special talent.

But more to the point, it says a great deal about how Americans think.  Expensive = Good. 

The report went on to talk about how this study could affect the generic drug industry.  Will people believe that the exact same substance with a higher price tag will be more effective.  I’m a big believer in generic drugs.  I look at labels when I shop for OTC stuff and, if the ingredient list looks the same, I’ll buy the store brand every time.  But I don’t know if I’m the exception or the rule.  Maybe it’s a frugality that was instilled by my Midwestern upbringing that says if you can get the same thing for less … get it. 

Does the same thinking extend to other goods?  I don’t know.  Look at the popularity of outlet malls and discount stores.  Getting a bargain.  Sure, there’s a segment of the population that will always pay full price, shop at the most expensive stores, brag about how much they paid for an item.  It’s part of the status.  But most of us will look for the best quality at the lowest price.  Maybe that doesn’t extend to medications.

Still, there is a culture of “Expensive = Good”.  Even if we don’t buy the most expensive car, or the best clothes, or the fillet Mignon … we want those things.   We covet the best, and do the best we can with the buying power we have to get as close as we possibly can.  Maybe that’s why there was this interesting twist on the placebo effect.  We all want expensive things, and assume that a high price tag means high quality.  When we’re given those supposedly expensive things for free, we really, really want them to work better … to be better.  We want to believe, but if the generic or store brand works … and we can save a few cents … booyah.  Still, I’ll bet most of us hope that NEXT time we can treat ourselves to “the good stuff”.



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Filed under Public Radio, Thoughts

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