Concern has been expressed over a possible widespread belief amongst patients in trials, that a new treatment is better than the standard, despite the lack of evidence of such superiority. A sample of the general public (N = 130) read a leaflet describing a hypothetical trial comparing two similar treatments for either arthritis or back-pain. Half read that both treatments were standard and generally available; half that one was new and available only within the trial. Participants rated any preference for one or the other treatment, gave written reasons, and indicated their willingness to enter the randomized trial. Fifteen participants subsequently talked through their answers. Most participants expressed no preference for either treatment when both were described as standard. When one was new more people with the arthritis (but not the back-pain) scenario expressed a preference (chi2 = 5.44, P = 0.031). Importantly, this was not more likely to be for the new treatment. Rationally, those who preferred a freely available treatment were less likely to participate in the trial (chi2 = 23.3, P < 0.001). The mere description of a trial treatment as new was insufficient to engender a preference for it over a standard treatment, although it may contribute to preference under certain additional circumstances.