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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Texas A&M: Researchers Analyze Psychological Factors in Correcting Vaccine Misinformation

In a new study, Dr. Timothy Callaghan, at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, joined colleagues from the University of Minnesota, Oklahoma State & Utah Valley University in analyzing vaccine misinformation and testing methods to counteract misinformation. The study relied on a national survey of American adults weighted to population benchmarks and aimed to see whether developing tailored messages for individuals with certain psychological dispositions would increase their likelihood of vaccinating.

Participants were randomly assigned a news story that either emphasized needle-free methods of vaccination delivery like sprays and patches (to target needle sensitivity), a story describing the measles in a way to induce disgust (to target moral purity), or articles on the safety of vaccines, and the causes of autism (to target need for cognitive closure). Some were also given a news story about language development in babies to serve as a control condition unrelated to vaccination.

The analysis found that people high on the needle/blood sensitivity and moral purity scales were more susceptible to vaccine misinformation; however, those who had a high need for cognitive closure were less likely to be swayed by misinformation. These findings could be the result of those people already having accepted correct information on vaccine safety before misinformation became prominent. Critically, the study found that the targeted articles were able to reduce misinformation endorsement in the needle/blood sensitive and moral purity groups. Individuals with high levels of needle/blood sensitivity or moral purity were less likely to endorse vaccine misinformation after reading a news story designed to target their psychological disposition.

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