Physicians under the Influence: Social Psychology and Industry Marketing Strategies
Article first published online: 1 OCT 2013
© 2013 American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics, Inc.
The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics
Special Issue: SYMPOSIUM: Institutional Corruption and the Pharmaceutical Industry
Volume 41, Issue 3, pages 665–672, Fall 2013
How to Cite
Sah, S. and Fugh-Berman, A. (2013), Physicians under the Influence: Social Psychology and Industry Marketing Strategies. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 41: 665–672. doi: 10.1111/jlme.12076
- Issue published online: 1 OCT 2013
- Article first published online: 1 OCT 2013
Pharmaceutical and medical device companies apply social psychology to influence physicians' prescribing behavior and decision making. Physicians fail to recognize their vulnerability to commercial influences due to self-serving bias, rationalization, and cognitive dissonance. Professionalism offers little protection; even the most conscious and genuine commitment to ethical behavior cannot eliminate unintentional, subconscious bias. Six principles of influence — reciprocation, commitment, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity — are key to the industry's routine marketing strategies, which rely on the illusion that the industry is a generous avuncular partner to physicians. In order to resist industry influence, physicians must accept that they are vulnerable to subconscious bias and have both the motivation and means to resist industry influence. A culture in which accepting industry gifts engenders shame rather than gratitude will reduce conflicts of interest. If greater academic prestige accrues to distant rather than close relationships with industry, then a new social norm may emerge that promotes patient care and scientific integrity. In addition to educating faculty and students about the social psychology underlying sophisticated but potentially manipulative marketing and about how to resist it, academic medical institutions should develop strong organizational policies to counteract the medical profession's improper dependence on industry.