Attempts by scientists to dispel the myths about vaccinations only strengthened people's delusions

The result of scientific propaganda in a week: the myth that vaccinations cause autism (A), the side effects of vaccinations (B) and the level of fluctuations regarding vaccination (C). Virtually all indicators increased after people became acquainted with the scientific facts about vaccinations and dispelling myths.

Scientists are unsuccessfully trying to debunk common myths about the dangers of vaccination. As shown by a recent study of specialists from the University of Edinburgh (Scotland), none of the three strategies for dispelling myths, using scientific facts, had no effect. Worse, in all cases the opposite effect was observed. After reviewing the facts about vaccine safety, ordinary people in their mass were inclined to be even more active in showing the effect of fluctuations about vaccination (vaccine hesitancy) - a phenomenon when people are delaying or completely refuse to use an available vaccine.

According to scientists, the persistence of delusions of the masses is associated with widespread cognitive distortions, including the effect of the illusion of truth - the tendency to believe information that is repeated many times. There are other cognitive distortions.

Why are people afraid of vaccinations?

Vaccines are known to be the safest and most effective tool for the prevention of infectious diseases. Their effectiveness is well known, as they have helped reduce or eliminate the spread of a number of dangerous diseases. The subject of fear of vaccinations is well studied in the scientific press. Scientists explain that fluctuations regarding vaccination are so popular for several reasons.

Firstly, this misconception is based on a number of cognitive mechanisms that promote belief in "conspiracy theory" and make the arguments in favor of vaccination counterintuitive . A number of emotional, social, cultural and political factors are involved in the process of encouraging people to misconceptions.

Secondly, public campaigns in attempts to dispel common misconceptions often ignore the aforementioned factors and therefore have limited or opposite effects .

Studies have shown that even if attempts to debunk errors initially do not have the opposite effect and are generally effective, they still often can not be hardened in people's memory. Over time, the townsfolk again "fall down" to explain what is happening with the help of information about the dangers of vaccinations, although they already know that this information is incorrect.

A good example of the rooted misconception of the masses is the scientific study of Wakefield et al. On the relationship between childhood vaccines and autism . Despite the availability of evidence that refutes Wakefield’s findings and does not find a connection between childhood vaccination and autism ( 1 , 2 ), many still believe that there is such a connection, and scientists ’attempts to disprove the“ truth ”are supposedly a conspiracy by pharmacological corporations.

In the last study, scientists from the University of Edinburgh studied the opinions of people about vaccination before and after they were shown three different types of explanatory materials indicating specific scientific facts about how low the harm of vaccines compared to real diseases, how useful they are to society and etc. It turned out that following the results of viewing explanatory materials, participants in the experiment not only did not change their point of view, but their beliefs in opposing vaccinations only strengthened!

A more detailed survey showed that many perceived information materials about the benefits of vaccination as another attempt to lie to them . Thus, the propaganda of the effectiveness of vaccinations using scientific facts only strengthened the beliefs of people that they were right - that vaccinations are really dangerous, if scientists and physicians are working so hard to convince them otherwise.

Similar results on the ineffectiveness of propaganda brought research experts from Dartmouth College in 2014. This phenomenon is associated with several well-known cognitive distortions , among which the bias towards negative (things of a negative nature even under the condition of equal power are perceived by a person more than things of a positive nature), conservatism (cognitive distortion of a new information if it contradicts the well-established beliefs of a person), tendency to confirmation of his point of view and the effect of the ostrich (an attempt to ignore the negative information associated with the choice made). And of course, belief in conspiracy theories, which by definition cannot be refuted. Any attempt to refute them only confirms that there is a conspiracy of those who are trying to refute them.

The authors of the scientific work believe that the experiment participants demonstrated cognitive distortion, known as the effect of the illusion of truth - the tendency to believe information that is repeated many times. That is, only the fact that scientists repeated the myth in the context of its incorrectness confirmed the beliefs of people in the truth of the myth.

It is especially difficult to save people from such delusions, if delusions are organically incorporated into their life views and picture of the world, that is, into a general cognitive consistency.

It is noteworthy that the study of Dartmouth College used a sample of the entire population, and now only college students, that is, relatively educated people, took part in the study of the University of Edinburgh, and this is particularly frightening.

The scientific work was published on July 27, 2017 in the journal PLOS One (doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0181640, pdf ).


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