Inside the Minds of Anti-Vaxxers

Anti Vaxxers Tend To Be Conspiracy Theorists Who Are Afraid Of Needles: Study

“These data help identify the ‘attitude roots’ that may motivate and sustain vaccine skepticism.” American Psychological Association

(Elana Glowatz, International Business Times) People who believe vaccines are unsafe also tend to believe conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terrorist attack, John F. Kennedy’s assassination and Princess Diana’s death.

The group is also more disgusted by needles and blood.

The findings come from a new study into the psychology behind the anti-vaccination movement. Scientists used data from more than 5,000 people in two dozen countries to come up with their evaluation of the so-called anti-vaxxers.

Their paper, published in the journal Health Psychology, suggests that opposition to vaccinations stems from a place deeper than a simple lack of information.

Debunking vaccine-related myths

“Many intervention programs work from a deficit model of science communication, presuming that vaccination skeptics lack the ability to access or understand evidence,” the study explains.

“However, interventions focusing on evidence and the debunking of vaccine-related myths have proven to be either non-productive or counterproductive. … These data help identify the ‘attitude roots’ that may motivate and sustain vaccine skepticism.”

Anti-vaccination beliefs have become an issue in recent years, with some people believing childhood vaccines like those against the measles cause autism or are otherwise dangerous, despite scientific evidence disproving those theories.

As vaccination rates have dropped in some places, dangerous infections that were once nearly eradicated have picked up again.

The new study digs into the psychology of why people reject vaccines.

Psychologists are getting to the root of why some people believe childhood vaccines are dangerous, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. Photo: Fred Tanneau/AFP/Getty Images

“Vaccinations are one of society’s greatest achievements and one of the main reasons that people live about 30 years longer than a century ago,” lead researcher Matthew Hornsey said in a statement from the American Psychological Association.

“Therefore, it is fascinating to learn about why some people are so fearful of them.”

Fear of a “New World Order” 

The analysis showed a link between anti-vaccination attitudes and belief in the conspiracy theories that Princess Diana was murdered, that there was a larger plot surrounding Kennedy’s assassination, that the U.S. government knew the 9/11 attack was going to happen but did not intervene and that “a shadowy group of elites exist to plot a new world order,” according to the APA.

“Those with strong beliefs in conspiracies were most likely to hold anti-vaccination attitudes regardless of where they lived.”

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They were also more likely to be disgusted by blood and needles, to fear infringements on their freedoms and to have a worldview that focused more on the individual than the collective.

“People often develop attitudes through emotional and gut responses,” Hornsey said.

“Simply repeating evidence makes little difference to those who have anti-vaccination attitudes. … Trying to reduce people’s conspiracy beliefs is notoriously difficult.” Displayed with permission from International Business Times via Repubub.

Abstract: The Psychological Roots of Anti-Vaccination Attitudes: A 24-Nation Investigation

APA PsychNET, © 2018 American Psychological Association

Citation: Hornsey, M. J., Harris, E. A., & Fielding, K. S. (2018).

Objective: Strengthening of anti-vaccination movements in recent decades has coincided with unprecedented increases in the incidence of some communicable diseases.

Many intervention programs work from a deficit model of science communication, presuming that vaccination skeptics lack the ability to access or understand evidence.

However, interventions focusing on evidence and the debunking of vaccine-related myths have proven to be either nonproductive or counterproductive. Working from a motivated reasoning perspective, we examine the psychological factors that might motivate people to reject scientific consensus around vaccination.

To assist with international generalizability, we examine this question in 24 countries. Methods: We sampled 5,323 participants in 24 countries, and measured their anti-vaccination attitudes.

We also measured their belief in conspiracy theories, reactance (the tendency for people to have a low tolerance for impingements on their freedoms), disgust sensitivity toward blood and needles, and individualistic/hierarchical world views (i.e., people’s beliefs about how much control society should have over individuals, and whether hierarchies are desirable).

Results: In order of magnitude, anti-vaccination attitudes were highest among those who (a) were high in conspiratorial thinking, (b) were high in reactance, (c) reported high levels of disgust toward blood and needles, and (d) had strong individualistic/hierarchical world views.

In contrast, demographic variables (including education) accounted for nonsignificant or trivial levels of variance. Conclusions: These data help identify the “attitude roots” that may motivate and sustain vaccine skepticism.

In so doing, they help shed light on why repetition of evidence can be nonproductive, and suggest communication solutions to that problem. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved) Purchase PDF