Using change detection to objectively evaluate whether novel over-the-counter drug labels can increase attention to critical health information among older adults

Cogn Res Princ Implic. 2021 May 26;6(1):40. doi: 10.1186/s41235-021-00307-z.


Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs have many benefits but also carry risks, such as adverse drug reactions, which are more prevalent in older adults. Because these products do not require the oversight of a physician or pharmacist, labeling plays a key role in communicating information required for their safe and effective use. Research suggests that current labels are not terribly effective at communicating potential risk. One reason for their lack of effectiveness is that few consumers attend to critical information (active ingredients and warnings) when making purchases. In two experiments, we used a change detection task to objectively evaluate how novel label designs that employ highlighting and a warning label placed on the package's front impact attention to critical information among older participants (65 and older). The change detection task is a unique form of visual search which allowed us to assess the attentional priority of critical information among participants who were not explicitly instructed to search for this critical information. This unique aspect of the task is important given research suggesting that consumers rarely have the explicit goal of seeking out warnings and active ingredients when making OTC selections. Our results provide empirical support that both highlighting critical information and positioning it on the package's front increase its attentional prioritization relative to current, commercial practice. Given that attending to the critical information is prerequisite to utilizing that information, strategies that elicit attention in this way are likely to reduce medication errors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Consumer Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • Nonprescription Drugs* / adverse effects
  • Product Labeling


  • Nonprescription Drugs