First impressions count in the fight against anti-vaccination conspiracy theories

"This current research further highlights the dangers of conspiracy theories by showing that once a conspiracy account has been established, it may be resistant to correction. However, resistance to conspiracy theories may be built up with factual information up front, somewhat similar to the process of inoculation."

Dr Daniel Jolley, psychology lecturer

New research has found that prevention is better than cure when it comes to fighting anti-vaccination conspiracy theories.

Previous research suggests that conspiracy theories undermine public confidence in vaccine efficacy and safety. A new study found that people’s decision-making is influenced by the order in which they receive information.

Across two studies with samples of American participants, Psychologists Dr Daniel Jolley, from Staffordshire University, and Professor Karen Douglas, from the University of Kent, asked participants to read anti-vaccination conspiracy theories and factual information on vaccinations in alternate order. The participants then had to decide if they would vaccinate a child.

Participants who were given anti-vaccination conspiracy theories before reading factual information were less likely to decide to vaccinate a child. Those who had the factual information first were resistant to conspiracy theories and were more likely to vaccinate.

Dr Jolley said: "Our previous research has demonstrated that conspiracy theories can stop people from intending to vote, intending to engage with the issue of climate change, and intending to vaccinate.

"This current research further highlights the dangers of conspiracy theories by showing that once a conspiracy account has been established, it may be resistant to correction. However, resistance to conspiracy theories may be built up with factual information up front, somewhat similar to the process of inoculation."

Prevention is better than cure: Addressing anti-vaccine conspiracy theories has been published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

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