3492_SM_CognitiveFluency_Blog-1Patients live in a complex world of decision-making. They interact with many sources of information – from their friends and family, to various media channels, to their healthcare providers – all of which influence how they think about critical healthcare goals and treatment choices. Without being medical experts themselves, many patients must chart their own path through the seas of information, coming to their own beliefs about what is true and important for their care.

While patients may think their beliefs are rational conclusions based on the information they consume, these perceptions are also influenced by instinctual shortcuts that happen below the surface of conscious thought. Known as cognitive biases, these shortcuts can influence patient beliefs and drive decision-making without them ever realizing it.

We conducted research in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Germany and Italy to identify which biases influence how patients engage with their doctors. One bias, cognitive fluency, was identified as a universal influence across all five markets. Cognitive fluency provides insight into how when an idea feels familiar or easy to think about, people tend to think that idea is also more true, popular, safe, important and recent. For example, prior research has shown that when an idea is repeated more frequently, people tend to think it comes from a more credible source.

To investigate the impact of cognitive fluency, we asked patients to read a selection of patient focus group quotes. For half of those surveyed, we provided one quote from one patient. For the other half, we provided three separate quotes from one patient. All the quotes expressed positive patient sentiment about the experience of asking their doctor about specific treatments and medications. We then asked patients from both groups how they thought people in general would rate their experience asking their doctor about specific treatments and medications.

In every market, patients who saw three separate quotes estimated that other people would rate this kind of experience as significantly higher (more positive) than those who only saw one quote. This impact was greatest in Germany, where quote repetition led to a 14% rating increase, followed by Italy (7% increase) and the U.K. (6% increase). The impact in the U.S. and Canada was more modest with a 3% increase in both markets. This tells us that across these markets, creating increased fluency by making messages feel familiar and easy to think about is likely to have a significant influence on patient beliefs.

If you’re a marketer in one of these countries, knowing how to leverage cognitive fluency can help you make sure your messages resonate with patients. Here’s how:

  • Use sticky language. Rhyming, alliteration and use of familiar terms all contribute to fluency.
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat. Be selective in which messages you want to prioritize and drive familiarity with disciplined repetition of those messages.
  • Simplify and test. Make sure communications are simple and streamlined, and test specifically for how easy materials and communications are to understand.

By understanding how cognitive fluency impacts patients in your market, you can support message development and communication strategies that favor belief over disbelief.


BLOG POST: Laissez-Faire vs. Over-Prepared: What Preparing Us for a Doctor's Appointment Tells Us About Patients 

BLOG POST: Sister Markets: Global Differences in Social Norms and Construal-Level Theory 


Topics: cognitive behavior, cognitive bias, patient behavior, cognitive fluency