Impact of brand or generic labeling on medication effectiveness and side effects

Health Psychol. 2016 Feb;35(2):187-90. doi: 10.1037/hea0000282. Epub 2015 Oct 12.


Objective: Branding medication with a known pharmaceutical company name or product name bestows on the drug an added assurance of authenticity and effectiveness compared to a generic preparation. This study examined the impact of brand name and generic labeling on medication effectiveness and side effects.

Method: 87 undergraduate students with frequent headaches took part in the study. Using a within-subjects counterbalanced design, each participant took tablets labeled either as brand name "Nurofen" or "Generic Ibuprofen" to treat each of 4 headaches. In reality, half of the tablets were placebos, and half were active ibuprofen (400 mg). Participants recorded their headache pain on a verbal descriptor and visual analogue scale prior to taking the tablets, and again 1 hour afterward. Medication side effects were also reported.

Results: Pain reduction following the use of brand name labeled tablets was similar in active ibuprofen or a placebo. However, if the tablets had a generic label, placebo tablets were significantly less effective compared to active ibuprofen. Fewer side effects were attributed to placebo tablets with brand name labeling compared to the same placebo tablets with a generic label.

Conclusions: Branding of a tablet appears to have conferred a treatment benefit in the absence of an active ingredient, while generic labeled tablets were substantially less effective if they contained no active ingredient. Branding is also associated with reduced attribution of side effects to placebo tablets. Future interventions to improve perceptions of generics may have utility in improving treatment outcomes from generic drugs.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Drug Substitution / psychology*
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions / psychology*
  • Drugs, Generic / adverse effects
  • Drugs, Generic / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Headache / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Ibuprofen / adverse effects
  • Ibuprofen / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Patient Satisfaction / statistics & numerical data*
  • Placebo Effect
  • Placebos / therapeutic use
  • Product Labeling / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult


  • Drugs, Generic
  • Placebos
  • Ibuprofen