Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Beneficial Side Effects

  • Sujita Kumar KarEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_1588-1



The unintended or undesired outcomes that are beneficial.


Side effects are often considered as undesirable. Side effects are often unintended. Side effects can be considered as by-products. When an intervention is done, it often aims at achieving a specific goal. The specific goal is often achieved through a specific mechanism at a specific site. However, the impact of an intervention may go beyond the desired or intended effect, which is often referred as side effect. In simpler terms, it can be said that the outcome of an intervention consists of desired effect and side effect (i.e., outcome = desired effect + side effect). The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines side effect as “a secondary and usually adverse effect (as of a drug)” and also refers to it as side reaction (Merriam-Webster Dictionary 2006). Side effects are also commonly known as adverse effects. Side effects are often discussed in the context of different medications or interventions.

The side effect may be hazardous as well as beneficial. For example, tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline are often used in the treatment of depression; sedation is a common side effect of amitriptyline. Many patients report excessive sedation with amitriptyline, which is a hazardous side effect, whereas several patients with depression report insomnia too and report improvement in their sleep after treatment with amitriptyline, which can be considered as a beneficial side effect.

Beneficial Side Effects: Relevance

Understanding the biological, psychological, as well as sociocultural factors in the context of health also requires thorough understanding about beneficial side effects. An individual’s basic needs (food, shelter, and sex) also have certain beneficial side effects too. Nature has designed sexual behavior in living organisms, which is meant for procreation (reproduction); some developmentally higher organisms (human) derive pleasure from sex (recreation). Here, recreation is the beneficial side effect of sex. Similarly, food and shelter are required for the survival and protection of the individual; however, pleasure is a secondary effect and biologically not intended in most of the living organisms; hence, it can be considered as beneficial side effect.

Illness (disease or disorder) causes significant impairment of functioning of the individual and compromises the productivity. However, it been seen that individuals, who are ill are often exempted from many socio-occupational roles and responsibilities. Individuals with illness also get certain disability benefits and extra care. These benefits can be considered as beneficial side effects of illness. Many patients demonstrate abnormal illness behavior or play the role of sick, being reinforced by the rewarding illness benefits (Kar and Kumar 2015).

Beneficial Side Effects: Clinical Implications

Beneficial side effects may have relevance in management of medical as well as psychiatric disorders. The effects of medications and other therapeutic interventions are judged in the patients. The effects of medications or interventions that are often acknowledged as undesired may be beneficial in certain category of clients. The beneficial side effects have been reported in various clinical research. Cleophas et al. (2002) in their study found a beneficial role of commonly used antihypertensive agents (beta blockers). They found that elderly population, who are often at risk of postural hypotension due to reduced baroreceptor sensitivity, may benefit from the use of beta blockers (Cleophas et al. 2002). Similarly, temozolomide is used as a chemotherapeutic agent for treatment of low-grade glioma; it is found to be effective in reduction of seizure frequency (Koekkoek et al. 2015). Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (e.g., fluoxetine) are commonly used for the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders. Fluoxetine and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors have the side effect of delayed ejaculation, which is found to be useful in males with premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction (Power-Smith 1994). Hypnotic therapies are used for producing relaxation and subjective well-being. In a study on patients with chronic pain, it was found to produce certain other additional effects like decreases pain and better perceived control on pain, which are beneficial side effects of the intervention (Jensen et al. 2006). Tobacco use is one of the common substance use disorder worldwide. Nicotine is the active principle of tobacco, which is having addictive properties. Nicotine is associated with various health hazards; however, nicotine is found to be beneficial in weight regulation, ulcerative colitis, Alzheimer’s disease, Tourette syndrome, as well as reducing neuro-inflammation (Jarvik 1991; Noda and Kobayashi 2017). Similarly, evidences support the beneficial role of cannabidiol-enriched cannabis in the management of treatment refractory pediatric epilepsy (Dravet syndrome, Lennox–Gastaut syndrome, idiopathic epilepsy) (Porter and Jacobson 2013).

Patients with depression, anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder often experience ruminations. Ruminations can be disastrous, but sometimes it becomes beneficial. Individuals, who frequently ruminate have difficulty (commit more errors) in tasks that require executive control like goal shifting. However, when they involve in tasks that do not require goal shifting and rather require goal maintenance, their performance remains better. It is a beneficial side effect of rumination (Altamirano et al. 2010). Even some evidences support that individuals who learn or listen to music show certain improvements in nonmusical domains (e.g., spatial abilities), which can be referred as a beneficial side effect of music (Schellenberg 2003).

Many a times, clinicians choose to use the side effects of a medication for a therapeutic purpose. Here, due to beneficial effect, the particular side effect becomes desirable, hence intended.


Beneficial role of side effect of an intervention or a pathophysiological process makes it acceptable and desirable many a times. Understanding beneficial side effects of an intervention will help the clinician in redirecting the side effects for the betterment of health.



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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryKing George’s Medical UniversityLucknowIndia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Kevin Beaver
    • 1
  1. 1.Florida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA