A pill’s color can affect how it’s judged by patients, how it’s marketed, and even how well it works.
When you take a pill, it makes its way to your stomach where it eventually dissolves. The stuff the pill is made of (or for capsules and the like, the stuff inside the pill) makes its way into your bloodstream. Some cause chemical reactions which block pain, reduce swelling, open blood vessels, or which go to war against infections. Regardless, taking a pill — beyond putting it in your mouth and swallowing — doesn’t take much, if any, thinking. It just works on its own.
Except that it doesn’t. Before we put the pills into our mouths, something happens: we look at what we’re taking. And, perhaps subconsciously, we notice something about the pill that shouldn’t matter:
We see what color the pill is.
The color of the pill shouldn’t affect how effective the pill is, of course — by and large, what a pill’s design is decided only after we determine the pill’s medicinal value. But, studies have shown — here’s one of many — that while we shouldn’t judge a pill by its cover, we can’t help ourselves. It’s a pretty standard example of the placebo effect — we already associate certain colors with certain moods, outcomes, etc., and those associations don’t disappear simply because the colored item is our medication. As a result, different colored pills thrive at reaching different medical goals. The Atlantic shares the basics of the color code:
And, as the Atlantic further explains, that color system isn’t universal — our cultural differences can have an impact:
The good news is that drug manufacturers are aware of this quirk of our consciousness and act accordingly. (That’s why you don’t often see black pills, which we’d associate with darkness, despair, and death.) It’s not foolproof, of course; there’s no way to account for how we, individually, associate colors with the world around us. But the only other solution is to take your pills without looking at them first, and that would be a very, very bad idea.