Ban the Sunset? Nonpropositional Content and Regulation of Pharmaceutical Advertising

Paul Biegler, Patrick T Vargas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The risk that direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription pharmaceuticals (DTCA) may increase inappropriate medicine use is well recognized. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration addresses this concern by subjecting DTCA content to strict scrutiny. Its strictures are, however, heavily focused on the explicit claims made in commercials, what we term their "propositional content." Yet research in social psychology suggests advertising employs techniques to influence viewers via nonpropositional content, for example, images and music. We argue that one such technique, evaluative conditioning, is operative in DTCA. We further argue that evaluative conditioning fosters unjustified beliefs about drug safety and efficacy, antagonising the autonomy of viewers' choices about advertised medicines. We conclude that current guidelines are deficient in failing to account for evaluative conditioning, and that more research and debate are needed to determine the permissibility of this and other forms of nonpropositional persuasion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-13
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Bioethics
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2013


  • advertising
  • autonomy
  • conditioning
  • ethics
  • knowledge
  • pharmaceuticals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health Policy


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