The Psychology Behind the Rising Trend of Anti-Vaccines

Posted on August 18, 2018

Vaccines have been around for the past few decades and there are a lot of scientific research and evidence that backs the use of vaccines in reducing the spread of contagious diseases, but lately there has been a growing number of people who refuse the use of vaccines, believing instead that it causes more harm than good. In this article, we explore the various psychological reasons behind why the anti-vaccines community is so adamant against the use of vaccines even when vaccines are backed by a wealth of evidence to support its usefulness and necessity in society.

Humans are what psychologists term as “cognitive misers” – this means that we try to take mental shortcuts; if we don’t have to think deeply, we don’t. Understanding the science behind vaccines may be a bit daunting in terms of the high-level reasoning skills it requires. Hence, as cognitive misers, we tend to steer away from this path and rely on our intuitions, which is a type of mental shortcuts.
We also hold a lot of cognitive biases, whether we acknowledge them consciously or not. There is a psychological term known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, in which there is a disconnect between a person’s level of competence and their actual knowledge. In other words, people who are incompetent are too incompetent to realise the inadequacy of their knowledge. People with little knowledge may feel more certain about the little information they possess, whether it’s correct or not. It is precisely this confidence that discourages them from challenging those very beliefs or ideas. This leads to another psychological phenomenon known as the confirmation bias, where people only look for further evidence to support what they already believe and ignore everything else that challenges their beliefs.
Fear is another reason why people who do not support vaccines are unable to consider arguments contrary to their stand. Negative emotions such as fear, anxiety and worry narrow our attention. This results in our lessened capacity to process new information whereby we are only able to focus on certain selected information – usually ones that support our existing beliefs – instead of the whole picture, thus limiting our ability to think critically.

Source material from VOA News

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