The Best Way to Change Anti-Vaxxers' Minds May Be Scaring the Hell Out of Them

Changing anti-vaxxer minds is a difficult proposition. Past research has shown that most arguments don't make much headway in convincing people that vaccines are important, but a new tactic -- showing anti-vaxxers evidence of the damage done by vaccine-preventable diseases -- seems to achieve what those others couldn't.


To some people, vaccines are a scary proposition. For whatever reason, they don't trust the advice of their doctors or the guarantees from the FDA or the pharmaceutical companies behind the product -- but what most people will trust, given the chance, is the evidence offered by their own eyes.

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So in a new study, the researchers tried something new. They divided study participants into three different groups, and gave each group some scientific reading material. One group got something totally unrelated to vaccination, and another got some literature explaining the total lack of relationship between vaccination and autism. (Seriously: There is none. Zero. Zilch.) And the last group got a pile of material detailing the ugly effects of measles, mumps, and rubella on the bodies of small children -- including the firsthand account of a mother whose child had become ill.

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The researchers measured the partcipants' attitudes toward vaccines before and after the reading, and the first two groups both felt a little more favorable to vaccines by the end. But the group that had gotten the firsthand details of illness had a jump in vaccine approval that was five times bigger than what the other groups experienced. Just the idea that anti-vaxxers' minds can be changed is a big deal, let alone the idea that we could improve our chances of convincing them by that much!

Let's be realistic: Sometimes it just feels good to wade into a Facebook argument about vaccination or post a funny meme, even if we know that yet another argument on the subject probably isn't going to win over any hearts or minds out there. But let's all do our best to take our hands off the mouse and step away from the keyboard, because really, these kinds of debates often only serve to push anti-vaxxers even further into vaccine denialism. But videos of babies struggling to breathe through a racking case of whooping cough? Stories of children blinded by measles, or rendered sterile by mumps? Images of miserable children with uncomfortable rashes and feverish eyes? Anything you or I say can easily be ignored -- but the evidence can, and should, speak for itself.


Image © Rafe Swan / Corbis

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