It's about beliefs, not knowledge: Set of psychological traits linked to vaccine skepticism

Instead of treating vaccine hesitancy and refusal as a knowledge problem, some scientists are saying deeply held psychological beliefs are instead at the heart of many people's resistance, reports The New York Times.

"The instinct from the medical community was, 'If only we could educate them,'" said Saad Omer, PhD, director of New Haven, Conn.-based Yale Institute for Global Health, who studies vaccine skepticism. "It was patronizing and, as it turns out, not true."

Dr. Omer and a team of both epidemiologists and social psychologists studied vaccine hesitancy and discovered a clear set of psychological traits tied with skepticism. 

They found skeptics were much more likely than nonskeptics to have a highly developed sensitivity for liberty and less deference to those in positions of power. Skeptics were also twice as likely to care a lot about the "purity" of their bodies and minds.  

In 2018, scientists found similar patterns in a broad sample of vaccine-hesitant people in 24 countries.

"At the root are these moral intuitions — these gut feelings — and they are very strong," said Jeff Huntsinger, PhD, a social psychologist at Loyola University Chicago who collaborated with Dr. Omer's team. "It's very hard to override them with facts and information. You can't reason with them in that way."


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