What blocks pro-vaccine beliefs?

October 29, 2015, Cell Press

Despite rhetoric that pits "anti-vaxxers" versus "pro-vaxxers," most new parents probably qualify as vaccine-neutral—that is, they passively accept rather than actively demand vaccination. Unless there is an active threat of polio or whooping cough, they have to remind themselves that injecting their crying infant with disease antigens is a good thing.

Even in these cases, some unease is natural, argue two psychologists in an Opinion published October 29 in Trends in Cognitive Sciences. The act itself is counter-intuitive, and it requires trust in medicine and government that not all of us possess. With campaigns to enhance vaccination compliance showing limited, if any, success, the authors consider what compels someone to vaccinate and the cognitive obstacles that cause pro-vaccine messaging to be rejected.

"Even if people have strong anti-vaccination beliefs, it's not because they are gullible; they have reasons that you can understand when you try to see things from their perspective," says co-author Hugo Mercier of the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland.

Mercier and co-author Helena Miton of the University of Lyon in France compare vaccination to bloodletting—all the rage until the late 19th century to treat a variety of ailments. If someone had a headache, let blood, and felt better, it was easy to explain cause and effect, even if it was not scientifically sound. This intuitive association drove bloodletting's popularity. Bloodletting is intuitive in spite of its lack of efficacy. Vaccination is counter-intuitive in spite of its efficacy.

In times of health, it becomes harder to experience and share the benefits of vaccination, and so negative views—such as the "vaccines cause autism" argument—are more likely to spread, say the authors. The counter-arguments for these claims also raise questions about which sources can be trusted, whether unvaccinated people are significantly more likely to get sick, and the side effects of vaccination. This makes messages that target hesitancy, especially if they come from government agencies or pharmaceutical companies, less likely to have an effect.

The community can also shape views on vaccinations. "If you believe in something, and science or your community doesn't share these beliefs, usually it is not a comfortable state to be in," says Mercier. "Fortunately, in most cases, communities adopt views that are in consensus in science, but there are exceptions, and if there are strong social pressures, it can be hard to change one person's mind."

In the long term, forceful measures to vaccinate children do little to increase trust between government institutions and people who hold anti-vaccination views, the authors write. They believe that agencies and pharmaceutical laboratories can make themselves more trustworthy by increasing transparency of clinical trials and engaging in more efficient science communication.

Explore further: Vaccine skeptics aren't swayed by emotional scare tactics

More information: Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Miton and Mercier: "Cognitive Obstacles to Pro-Vaccination Beliefs" dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2015.08.007

Related Stories

Vaccine skeptics aren't swayed by emotional scare tactics

March 3, 2015
On the heels of a nationwide measles outbreak comes a report that campaigns aimed at scaring people about the consequences of non-vaccination might not be as effective as many think. An upcoming article in the journal Communication ...

Researchers profile four types of non-vaccinators

October 1, 2015
While scientists are continuously improving vaccinations to stop the spread of disease, many people continue to opt out. In a new review of the literature, researchers identified four types of people who decide not to vaccinate ...

Vaccinate against measles

March 9, 2015
Future outbreaks of measles can only be prevented by vaccination.

Australia to block government benefits for unvaccinated children

September 16, 2015
Australia Wednesday introduced a "no jab, no pay" law which would block parents who refuse to vaccinate their children from accessing some government benefits.

Simple intervention can moderate anti-vaccination beliefs, study finds

August 3, 2015
It might not be possible to convince someone who believes that vaccines cause autism that they don't. Telling skeptics that their belief is not scientifically supported often backfires - strengthening, rather than weakening, ...

Recommended for you

A low-gluten, high-fiber diet may be healthier than gluten-free

November 16, 2018
When healthy people eat a low-gluten and fibre-rich diet compared with a high-gluten diet, they experience less intestinal discomfort including less bloating. Researchers at University of Copenhagen show that this is due ...

Youth dating violence shaped by parents' conflict-handling views, study finds

November 16, 2018
Parents who talk to their children about nonviolent ways of resolving conflict may reduce children's likelihood of physically or psychologically abusing their dating partners later—even when parents give contradictory messages ...

Why we shouldn't like coffee, but we do

November 15, 2018
Why do we like the bitter taste of coffee? Bitterness evolved as a natural warning system to protect the body from harmful substances. By evolutionary logic, we should want to spit it out.

Dietary fat is good? Dietary fat is bad? Coming to consensus

November 15, 2018
Which is better, a low-fat/high-carbohydrate diet or a high-fat/low-carbohydrate diet—or is it the type of fat that matters? In a new paper featured on the cover of Science magazine's special issue on nutrition, researchers ...

Low-carb diets cause people to burn more calories

November 14, 2018
Most people regain the weight they lose from dieting within one or two years, in part because the body adapts by slowing metabolism and burning fewer calories. A meticulous study led by Boston Children's Hospital, in partnership ...

Colder, darker climates increase alcohol consumption and liver disease

November 14, 2018
Where you live could influence how much you drink. According to new research from the University of Pittsburgh Division of Gastroenterology, people living in colder regions with less sunlight drink more alcohol than their ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.