In a fascinating study of the roots of psychological attitudes, researchers report that people who are against vaccinations are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories.
The anti-vaccine movement has resulted in the reintroduction of virtually eradicated childhood diseases like measles. Though there are many aspects of suspicion, a common concern is that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine causes autism. Another recurrent claim is that the pediatric schedule of shots harms children due to the number of immunizations in the early years of development. Both of these myths have been thoroughly debunked, but apparently it is difficult to persuade those suspicious of science through additional science.
“Many intervention programs work from a deficit model of science communication, presuming that vaccination skeptics lack the ability to access or understand evidence,” the researchers report.1 “However, interventions focusing on evidence and the debunking of vaccine-related myths have proven to be either nonproductive or counterproductive.”
They examined the psychological factors behind this impasse, administering a questionnaire to more than 5,000 people in 24 countries. Across this dispersed global population, antivaccination attitudes were consistently highest among those who favored conspiratorial thinking. Those against vaccines also scored high in measures of a strong reaction to perceived infringements on individual freedom.
Instead of assailing these people with more science, the authors suggest a “jiu jitsu” approach of trying to align science communication with their “underlying fears, ideologies, and identities, thus reducing people’s motivation to reject the science.” Strangely, they seem to conclude that it may be helpful to hint that the negative views of vaccines may be the result of a conspiracy.
“It is counterproductive to try to reduce people’s conspiratorial thinking — and there is no evidence that this is feasible,” the authors concluded. “Rather, one should work with people’s underlying worldviews to acknowledge the possibility of conspiracies, but to show how vested interests can conspire to obscure the benefits of vaccination and to exaggerate the dangers.”
- Hornsey MJ, Harris EA, Fielding KS. The Psychological Roots of Anti-Vaccination Attitudes: A 24-Nation Investigation Health Psychology. American Psychological Association 2018;1(2): http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/hea0000586.