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© 2015 Elsevier Ltd. Two experiments are reported in which people's sensory, hedonic, and efficacy expectations associated with pharmaceutical pills of differing colour and shape were assessed. In Experiment 1, 101 participants from the USA viewed online photos of tablets having one of 7 colours and 3 shapes. The participants had to arrange the 21 tablets based on the expectations generated solely by the tablets' visual properties. The results revealed that the colour of the tablets influenced expected bitterness, expected alertness, and expected efficiency in combating headaches, whereas the shape of the tablets influenced the expected difficulty of swallowing. In Experiment 2, the major findings of Experiment 1 were replicated while using a greater variety of colours, in 358 participants from China, Colombia, and the USA. Importantly, the results revealed some shared expectations across cultures, such as the high expected efficacy of white tablets in combating headaches, or the high expected difficulty of swallowing the diamond-shaped tablets. The results also revealed some differences among the three groups, such as that the colour of the pills influenced how difficult the Chinese participants (but not the other two groups) expected the pills would be to swallow. These findings clearly demonstrate that the differing colours and shapes of pharmaceutical pills set-up significantly different expectations which likely play an important role in terms of people's subsequent experience.

Original publication




Journal article


Food Quality and Preference

Publication Date





171 - 182