Easy for You to Say

Jul 5, 2012
Are you impacted by processing fluency? Learn about how the hard to pronounce names are impacting generic drug use.

Sight unseen, which roller coaster do you think is more risky to ride – the Ohanzee or the Tsiischili?

The scare factor tilts a bit more to the Tsiischili – and scientists at the University of Michigan believe they know why: a psychological effect called "processing fluency."

It turns out that we judge things with names that are hard to pronounce as more dangerous – whether those things are imaginary food additives or roller coasters.

A Bit of Background on "Processing Fluency"

In a University of Michigan study, published in Psychological Science, Hyunjin Song and Norbert Schwarz created names of food additives and asked participants to rate how hazardous they seemed. They consistently rated “additives” with names like Magnalroxate as less risky than names such as Hnegripitrom. The results held up when they extended the questioning to amusement park rides.

Song and Schwarz noted that these results are in line with previous research on cognitive biases, which shows that we tend to underestimate the risk of familiar things and overestimate the risk of things we know less well.

Fluency Effect and Its Impact on Generic Drugs

Our underuse of generic medications is costing the United States $50 billion a year, according to the Express Scripts Drug Trend Report. Could processing fluency be part of the reason?

For example, the generic name for Lipitor® is atorvastatin – same drug, but more difficult to pronounce. Although many patients understand that generics are the clinical equivalent of brand name drugs, some still choose to continue with the more expensive version.

Countering the Fluency Effect

At Express Scripts, processing fluency is beginning to play a role in our efforts to drive out waste in healthcare. The broader implication of fluency is that we judge things that are mentally easier to process as being better.

Understanding this effect enables Express Scripts to develop solutions that help patients overcome their fluency bias and act on their knowledge that a generic drug is equally effective but far less expensive than its brand equivalent.

We rigorously test the messages we use, and have seen time and time again that less is more. Simpler words, shorter sentences, direct language all lead to greater fluency and higher acceptance by patients.

Do you think you're impacted by the fluency effect? We'd love to hear from you.

comments powered by Disqus