Recent outbreaks of measles have highlighted the dangers of choosing not to vaccinate children. In an effort to convince parents who are hesitant or skeptical about vaccines, researchers in the departments of psychology at both the University of Illinois and UCLA investigated two different strategies (Horne Z, Powell D, Hummel JE, Holyoak KJ. Countering anti-vaccine attitudes. Proc Natl Acad Sci).
The authors provided parents with either 1) A paragraph written from a mother’s perspective about their child’s contracting measles, 2) A picture of a child with measles or mumps or an infant with rubella, or 3) Three short warnings about how important it is for parents to vaccinate their children. Control groups included parents who were given information about an unrelated topic or information that countered the notion that vaccines cause autism.
The authors found that providing positive information about the dangers of communicable diseases clearly changed parents’ perceptions about the choice not to vaccinate, whereas countering misinformation did not. This paper provides useful information about how best to influence parents who are choosing not to vaccinate their children. Getting parents to understand that a choice not to give a vaccine is not a risk-free choice, but rather a choice to take a different and more serious risk apparently is most convincing.