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People judge flu risk by cost of vaccine

TULANE (US) — Based on the price of medication, consumers make irrational inferences about their risk of getting sick.

The study, published in Journal of Consumer Research, finds that consumers make judgments about their risk of catching an illness based on the cost of its medication.

The higher the price, the less they think they’re at risk, says co-author Janet Schwartz, assistant professor of marketing at Tulane University’s A.B. Freeman School of Business.

“Your chance of winning at blackjack has nothing to do with how big the payout is and most people know that,” Schwartz says.

“But when it comes to understanding what prices reflect for medicine, people look at the price and they do think that it somehow tells them something about their own risk of getting a disease. In reality, those two factors are completely independent.”

Researchers conducted several surveys to gauge consumers’ reactions to different medications based on cost and perceived risk. For example, they presented different health messages about getting a flu shot, emphasizing individual risk in one scenario and the larger public health risks in another. They told some that the vaccine cost $25 and others $125.

Even though all were told the cost would be covered by insurance, those in the high-price group felt that they were at a lower risk of getting the flu. Researchers found that consumers instinctively believed that important medication like flu vaccine should be affordably priced to be widely accessible.

When priced high and perceivably out of reach for some, consumers inferred that the medicine must not be all that necessary and the risk of getting the illness must be lower.

Source: Tulane University

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  1. Daniel McBane

    At first I thought this might also be due to people simply trying to justify their decision not to buy the vaccine (when it’s expensive), but after rereading, I noticed they were told their insurance would cover all costs.

    The reasoning makes sense though; we generally think of overpriced items as luxury (i.e. unnecessary) goods.

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