Professor studies positivity bias in medications

COURTESY+%7C+Amanda+Dillard
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Professor studies positivity bias in medications

COURTESY | Amanda Dillard

COURTESY | Amanda Dillard

COURTESY | Amanda Dillard

COURTESY | Amanda Dillard

Katherine Arnold, Staff Reporter

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This month, Professor Amanda Dillard and two colleagues published the results of their study on positivity bias in “Social and Personality Psychology Compass,” an academic journal. Their research focused on consumer reaction to products labeled with the term “natural,” especially focusing on products meant to improve health — do people tend to automatically think that medicines labeled as “natural” are more safe and effective than medicines labeled as “synthetic?”

This type of research directly impacts everyone who buys medications and is beneficial for the study of emotions and how they affect the way individuals make decisions. Once someone is aware that they might have such a bias, they are able to recognize when they might be using it and why they might be making it in the first place. This will allow them to make a decision that is based on an informed source or a better analysis, rather than relying on a face-value opinion. 

To get to the heart of the matter, they conducted a literature review to analyze whether there was a positivity bias towards targeted phrasing like natural on advertised goods. Different areas like health and medicine, as well as food and beauty products, were tested in order to brainstorm a list of potential reasons for the existing bias and how this research could continue in the future. 

Dillard describes this bias toward the term natural as “another illustration of how powerful emotions can be in decision-making.” 

The idea for this project originated from a previous study, where it was discovered that college students chose a pain reliever advertised as naturally made over a synthetically created one. This and other studies opened the door for this literature review and what steps would need to be taken to use this topic in further research. 

Throughout the study, it was proven that such a bias did indeed exist, and furthermore that people tended to choose products labeled “natural” even when they were identical to the alternative — or even less effective. 

“After further examination, we suggested three areas for building the research: the measurement of behavior, the examination of individual differences and the development of methods for reducing the bias,” Dillard said.  

Even outside of her professional work, Dillard will use what she has learned from this study in the classes that she teaches. One class in particular, Health Psychology, works directly with this line of research. This study successfully shows that biases can be an important part of decisions people make in regards to their health. 

“As professors, it is important for us to not only know, but also do the research that we teach our students,” Dillard says. “I am grateful that I get to teach Health Psychology and can share my research regularly with my students.”