Belief in conspiracy theories is tied to vaccine skepticism

February 9, 2018

People who believe that Princess Diana was murdered in 1997 or that President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 was part of an elaborate plot are more likely to think that vaccines are unsafe, despite scientific evidence to the contrary, according to findings of an online survey of over 5,000 people from 24 countries covered by Homeland Security News on February 2.

The study is the first to test the relationship between conspiracy beliefs and anti-vaccination attitudes among a global sample, according to lead researcher Matthew Hornsey, a faculty member in the Psychology Department at the University of Queensland in Australia.

 The research (“The Psychological Roots of Anti-Vaccination Attitudes: A 24-Nation Investigation”) was published in the journal, Health Psychology, on February 1.

“People often develop attitudes through emotional and gut responses,” Hornsey explained. “Simply repeating evidence makes little difference to those who have anti-vaccination attitudes.”

Indeed, as of January 12, more than 152 million doses of flu vaccine had been shipped nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). However, many still hesitated to take the shot.

The researchers measured anti-vaccination attitudes versus beliefs in four conspiracy theories: that Princess Diana was murdered; that the American government knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance and chose to let them happen; that a shadowy group of elites are colluding on a new world order; and that John F. Kennedy was murdered as part of wide-ranging, intricate plot.

Among the results: Those with strong beliefs in conspiracies were most likely to hold anti-vaccination attitudes— regardless of where they lived. For example, the more strongly respondents believed that Princess Diana was murdered, the more negative attitudes they had about vaccinations. In contrast, level of education had a very small impact on anti-vaccination attitudes.

Large pharmaceutical companies, which profit from selling vaccines, are often targets for conspiracy theorists, said Hornsey. “For many conspiracy theorists, profits gained are a sign that the system is broken and the truth is being covered up by vested interests.”

Anti-vaccination attitudes also were associated with intolerance of those whom respondents believe limit their freedom, disgust toward blood and needles and an individualistic world view, according to the study.

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