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Description: As the Covid vaccines roll out we general conversation is shifting from when vaccines will be generally available to when will we have enough people vaccinated that we close in on what seems like the almost mythical herd immunity. One of the topics of this more recent line of discussion within the media concerns the fact that some people have stated they will not be getting a vaccine, and some are saying they are not sure, they have concerns. In my province in Canada (Alberta) and in a number of American states these two groups of vaccine refusers and vaccine skeptics account for more than 25% of the adult population. Public health science-based opinion say that every adult should get a jab as soon as one becomes available. Remaining unvaccinated is individually risky and, in areas with significant numbers of no-vax and vaccine skeptics the very notion of controlling the coronavirus and stopping its mutating spread is at risk. So, what to do about vaccine skeptics? Setting aside any thought about legislating the matter, think about what you would hypothesize as a strategy for encouraging or convincing vaccine skeptics to get a jab. If you are thinking they need a bit more, or perhaps a lot more, information/knowledge I will tell you that research data does NOT support that approach. So, what else is going on? What is behind vaccine skepticism if not a lack of knowledge? Sorting that out is a vital first step towards implementing an approach to decreasing vaccine skepticism that might actually get traction. Think about what else might be involved and then read the article linked below that looks at some research into this very question.

Source: Vaccine Skepticism Was Viewed as a Knowledge Problem. It’s Actually About Gut Beliefs, Sabrina Tavernise, The New York Times.

Date: April 29, 2021

Photo Credit:  Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

Article Link:

Social psychologist Jonathan Haight has written extensively about the idea that there are more than one or two moral foundations that guide out behavior and that shape out options and our decisions in areas such as political choice, issue support or vaccine skepticism. A focus on matters of care or harm (to self and others) is just one of 6 moral foundations. The others include fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation (disgust) and liberty/oppression. These foundations are not simple opionions but are, according to Haight, arise from deep evolutionary roots. Which are held as vital is differentially distributed across the but population but also across political lines as well. For example, deep feeling about the fundamental importance of liberty, freedom to make one’s own choices, to not be told what to do can be seen to playout in some people’s vaccine skepticism as well as in social distancing resistance and mask wearing resistance. Strong feelings about purity (disgust at the thought of foreign substance being put into one’s arm) are another moral foundation that likely contributes to vaccine skepticism. What to do? Well, step one is getting beyond assuming it is just due to a lack of knowledge, especially as realizing that added knowledge alone does not seem to help tends to morph rather instantly to “they must be stupid” which is of no help at all. Step 2 is to build an engagement strategy grounded in an awareness of the broader array of moral foundations at work in people’s opinions and in their reactions to public health campaigns. More thought and research IS needed and we certainly have an amazing opportunity to get that work done in relation to our current vaccination push!

Questions for Discussion:  

  1. Why are some people saying they will refuse a Covid vaccine or saying they are skeptical about the idea of getting a jab?
  2. When explaining to vaccine skeptics why they should get vaccinated (to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their fellow citizens) does not work , or makes things worse, which of our assumptions or hypotheses should we reconsider?
  3. What would a broader, noyt just knowledge focused, “Get vaccinated” campaign involve?

References (Read Further):

Hoffman, Jan (2021) Faith, Freedon, Fear: Rural America’s Covid Vaccine Skeptics, The New York Times. Link

KFF (2021) KFF Covid-19 Vaccine Monitor. Link

Haight, J (2021) Moral Link

Kalimeri, K., G. Beiró, M., Urbinati, A., Bonanomi, A., Rosina, A., & Cattuto, C. (2019, May). Human values and attitudes towards vaccination in social media. In Companion Proceedings of The 2019 World Wide Web Conference (pp. 248-254). Link

Doğruyol, B., Alper, S., & Yilmaz, O. (2019). The five-factor model of the moral foundations theory is stable across WEIRD and non-WEIRD cultures. Personality and Individual Differences, 151, 109547. Link

Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. Vintage. Summary Link

Amin, A. B., Bednarczyk, R. A., Ray, C. E., Melchiori, K. J., Graham, J., Huntsinger, J. R., & Omer, S. B. (2017). Association of moral values with vaccine hesitancy. Nature Human Behaviour, 1(12), 873-880.

Chan, E. Y. (2021). Moral foundations underlying behavioral compliance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Personality and individual differences, 171, 110463. Link

Whitehead, A. L., & Perry, S. L. (2020). How Culture Wars Delay Herd Immunity: Christian Nationalism and Anti-vaccine Attitudes. Socius, 6, 2378023120977727. Link

Lunz Trujillo, K., Motta, M., Callaghan, T., & Sylvester, S. (2020). Correcting Misperceptions about the MMR Vaccine: Using Psychological Risk Factors to Inform Targeted Communication Strategies. Political Research Quarterly, 1065912920907695. Link