The Color of Pills Influences How Well They'll Work on You

Placebo pills are the ultimate demonstration of brain power. As long as you truly believe a drug-less little sugar pill will erase your throbbing headache, it really can. The brain is one powerful organ, ya'll. But the placebo effect can influence how well real medication works, too. Imagine you have two identical anti-itch creams, but one is white and the other is red. Which would you reach for?

Taste the Rainbow

Drugs are powerful, but your brain can really give 'em a run for their money. The placebo effect maintains that something that shouldn't make a difference, can make a difference. This psychological effect is often associated with "fake" medications, but it can latch onto other factors of real medication, too.

Consider the color of your meds. In a 1996 study, green and blue pills had more sedative effects than other colors. Red and orange, on the other hand, gave more stimulant effects. Yellow pills make the most effective antidepressants, according to a 1970 study. Green medicine can better wipe your anxiety, and white stuff will soothe your pain, said a 1982 study. You'd choose the white anti-itch cream over the same stuff in red, wouldn't you? Our point exactly.

Want to give your medication, whatever the color, an extra boost in effectiveness? Swallow brighter colors and look for bigger pills that have the brand name embossed on them. According to a 1981 study, a white aspirin with the name stamped into it can dupe your brain into being more effective than the anonymous-looking unstamped one.

Got the Blues?

You may not think you do, but you care about color. Different hues affect you on a psychological level at every turn in your daily life (just ask any major brand vying for your attention). Let's look at some marketing flops of the past to give you a better idea. Why didn't green Heinz ketchup or Burger King's black burgers or clear Crystal Pepsi take off? We just cannot get over the unexpected color swap. These colors might make us believe that burger and pop taste gross, even when nothing about the recipe has changed. Our brains take cues from color to set up certain expectations about the world around us.

Relating back to medication, people generally perceive yellow to be cheery like sunshine, and blue to be calming like a placid lake. It's then no wonder a bright yellow antidepressant, and not a grayish blue one, will get you thinking happy thoughts before you ever pop it in your mouth. Or maybe you should try an appropriately colored Tic-Tac first.

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Learn more about the peculiar mysteries of placebos in "Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body" by Jo Marchant. The audiobook is free with an Audible trial. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Joanie Faletto November 26, 2017

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