Score one for social science and quantitative methods:
New scrutiny plan for US drug ads, by Christopher Bowe, Financial Times: Drugs companies have long studied the effects their advertisements and promotions have on consumer behaviour, and now US regulators are aiming to catch up. The Food and Drug Administration is working to expand its regulatory arsenal with an unprecedented use of sociological methods to measure perceptions and communication of risks. The agency overseeing food, drug and medical devices is making a big push into social science, according to people familiar with the matter, with the hope of using this expertise to better measure, understand and regulate product risks and consumers’ and doctors’ responses to those risks.
It also aims to add a social science element to a range of FDA regulatory responsibilities, including monitoring the pharmaceutical industry’s sophisticated marketing and advertising and foodmakers’ claims about their products. FDA officials consider this an emerging priority. ... they see the embrace of social science as a necessary counterweight to industry, catching up with drugmakers’ long-running and expensive efforts at understanding how to place their products in the best possible light. ... The agency’s new emphasis on sociological tools is also a sign that it endorses the quantitative potential in modern social science and social psychology.
Several current and planned studies by the FDA highlight its early steps to increase use of sociological tools in regulation. The agency expects to begin a study soon on whether coupons and other free offers used for drug advertising in print media affect consumers’ perceptions of the products’ risks. ...
Another example of sociological tools that interest the FDA came in one of two hearings late last year on advertising and risk communication. In a presentation, Ruth Day, a cognitive psychology researcher from Duke University, analysed drug advertising showing how media techniques could make consumers less likely to remember side effects. She added that similar techniques were used on drug websites, leaflets and labels.
Techniques included “chunking”, where benefits are described in simple sentences, and side effects described in long complex sentences. Moreover, risk information was discussed three-quarters of the way into the ad, making it more likely to be forgotten. Ms Day also showed that distracting graphics can coincide with discussion of side effects to lower comprehension.