March 23, 2019

Inside the Minds of the Anti-Vaxxers

“The World Health Organization recently named a reluctance or refusal to vaccinate one’s children as one of the 10 most pressing health issues of 2019. Solving the vaccination gap — and thus preventing problems like the current measles outbreak in Washington State — will require a better understanding of what drives loving mothers and fathers to make the dangerous decision not to inoculate their children.

New research from Australia provides valuable insights regarding these parents’ underlying motivations. It finds that both hardcore anti-vaxxers and those who are reluctant or hesitant to vaccinate their children tend to occupy specific moral universes. Intriguingly, the elements that make up their ethical codes are a mix of those usually seen on the political right, and others more prevalent on the political left.

Identifying these ethical codes could help shape persuasion campaigns more successfully — and stop authorities from pursuing counterproductive campaigns that could drive more people into the anti-vaccination camp.

“Public confidence in vaccination is waning, driven in part by the manufacture of doubt by anti-vaccination activists and websites,” writes a research team led by Isabel Rossen and Mark Hurlstone of the University of Western Australia. Their study aimed to determine who is vulnerable to anti-vaccination persuasion, and why. To do so, they utilized moral foundations theory, the structure created by psychologist Jonathan Haidt that identifies the core moral domains that underpin our often-clashing ethical codes.”

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