Communicating information concerning potential medication harms and benefits: What gist do numbers convey?

Susan J Blalock, Adam Sage, Michael Bitonti, Payal Patel, Rebecca Dickinson, Peter Knapp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives Fuzzy trace theory was used to examine the effect of information concerning medication benefits and side-effects on willingness to use a hypothetical medication. Methods Participants (N = 999) were recruited via Amazon Mechanical Turk. Using 3 × 5 experimental research design, each participant viewed information about medication side effects in 1 of 3 formats and information about medication benefits in 1 of 5 formats. For both side-effects and benefits, one format presented only non-numeric information and the remaining formats presented numeric information. Results Individuals in the non-numeric side-effect condition were less likely to take the medication than those in the numeric conditions (p < 0.0001). In contrast, individuals in the non-numeric benefit condition were more likely to take the medication than those in the numeric conditions (p < 0.0001). Conclusions Our findings suggest that non-numeric side-effect information conveys the gist that the medication can cause harm, decreasing willingness to use the medication; whereas non-numeric benefit information has the opposite effect. Practice implications Presenting side-effect and benefit information in non-numeric format appears to bias decision-making in opposite directions. Providing numeric information for both benefits and side-effects may enhance decision-making. However, providing numeric benefit information may decrease adherence, creating ethical dilemmas for providers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1964-1970
Number of pages7
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number12
Early online date15 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016

Bibliographical note

© 2016 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy.


  • Fuzzy trace theory
  • Gist
  • Medications
  • Risk communication

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