Protecting consumers from fraudulent health claims: A taxonomy of psychological drivers, interventions, barriers, and treatments

Douglas MacFarlane, Mark Hurlstone, Ullrich Ecker

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Fraudulent health claims—false or misleading claims used to promote health remedies that are untested, ineffective, and often harmful—cause extensive and persistent harm to consumers. To address this problem, novel interventions are needed that address the underlying cognitive mechanisms that render consumers susceptible to fraudulent health claims. However, there is currently no single framework of relevant psychological insights to design interventions for this purpose. The current review aims to address this gap. Method: An integrative theoretical review was conducted across several major areas of relevant research including criminology, experimental psychology, and behavioural economics. Results: The current review presents a novel taxonomy that aims to serve as an agenda for future research to systematically design and compare interventions based on empirical evidence. Specifically, this taxonomy identifies (i) the psychological drivers that make consumers susceptible to fraudulent health claims, (ii) the psychological barriers that may prevent successful application of interventions, and (iii) proposes evidence-informed treatments to overcome those barriers. Conclusion: The resulting framework integrates behavioural insights from several hitherto distinct disciplines and structures promising interventions according to five underlying psychological drivers: Visceral influence, Affect, Nescience, Misinformation, and Norms (VANMaN). The taxonomy presents an integrative and accessible theoretical framework for designing evidence-informed interventions to protect consumers from fraudulent health claims. This review has broad implications for numerous topical issues including the design and evaluation of anti-fraud campaigns, efforts to address the growing problem of health-related misinformation, and for countering the polarization of politically sensitive health issues.
Original languageEnglish
Article number112790
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


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