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Member Research and Reports

Texas A&M: Research Identified Psychological Factors in Delaying Childhood Vaccination as Conspiratorial Thinking, Aversion to Needles and Moral Purity

Dr. Timothy Callaghan, of the Texas A&M School of Public Health, investigated key psychological factors involved in parental decisions to delay vaccinating their children. The new study, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, used data from an original national survey of American adults to investigate psychological factors behind vaccine hesitancy in parents generally and also analyzed predictors of delaying the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine specifically.

Dr. Callaghan identified three factors that predict parental decisions to delay vaccination. The first of these is conspiratorial thinking, which involves beliefs that various events result from unseen forces at work in secret. People with high levels of conspiratorial thinking sometimes view vaccine mandates as having ulterior motives or believe that harm from vaccines is being covered up by industry or the government.

The second factor is a sensitivity or aversion to needles. People reporting high levels of anxiety toward needles may be more likely to delay vaccinations for their children, and previous research has found an association between needle sensitivity and health care avoidance in general.

The third factor is a sense of moral purity, which leads people to be highly vigilant about what they put into their bodies. This could be especially important for the HPV vaccine, as some people with high degrees of moral purity might find vaccinating children against a sexually transmitted disease objectionable.

Researchers conducted an online survey that asked over 4,000 parents about vaccination behavior while also asking a series of psychological questions.

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