LUBBOCK, Texas — As the world waits for a proven vaccine to the coronavirus outbreak, a new study says some people will still be skeptical of it no matter how helpful that vaccine is. Psychologists in Texas say it’s not because of a lack of information, it’s because their brains focus on the worst possible outcomes.
Researchers at Texas Tech University say “vaccine skepticism” is becoming a growing trend. Their study suggests that people who are unwilling to get vaccinated actually process information differently than those who choose to get treated.
The study’s authors, Mark LaCour and Tyler Davis, found that vaccine skeptics were less accurate when asked to guess the likelihood of a bad outcome. Vaccine skeptics frequently overestimate the chances of a worst-case scenario happening; not just with vaccines but with all events.
“We saw an overestimation of rare events for things that don’t have anything to do with vaccination,” Davis said in a statement.
‘Horror Stories’ Fuel Vaccine Skepticism
The study surveyed over 150 people and asked them to guess the chances of death linked to 40 different causes, ranging from cancer to firework accidents. The team found that vaccine skeptics thought their chances of death from a rare event were much higher than they are in reality.
“Vaccine skeptics probably don’t have the best understanding of how likely or probable different events are,” LaCour said. “They might be more easily swayed by anecdotal horror stories. For example, your child can have a seizure from getting vaccinated.”
The Texas Tech study did not find any link to a skeptic’s education level, but say it’s possible they’re choosing to seek out less reliable information.
“It may be the case that they are specifically seeking out biased information, for example, to confirm their skeptical beliefs,” Davis said.
Social Media Adding To The Anti-Vaxxer Movement?
The researchers say it’s becoming easier for people who overestimate bad outcomes happening to find information that backs up their fears online.
“If you were so inclined, you could follow Facebook groups that publicize extremely rare events,” LaCour explained.
LaCour and Davis point to the 2019 outbreak of measles, the largest outbreak of the illness since 1992 in the United States. Most of the cases were found among people who were never vaccinated.
Previous studies have also shown that social media misinformation has convinced many vaccine skeptics that modern day medicine is “full of toxins.”
The Texas Tech study was published in the journal Vaccine.