Cognitive Bias and Vaccine Education

Most of us think we use good judgement when we make decisions.

We research things, consider pros and cons, and put a lot of thought into our decisions.

Unfortunately, no matter how careful we are, subconscious cognitive bias can lead us to make mistakes.

Cognitive biases are defined as:

“mental errors caused by our simplified information processing strategies.”

Cognitive biases often make it difficult for vaccine hesitant parents to see through anti-vaccine myths and misinformation and lead them to fall for anti-vaccine talking points.

These cognitive biases include:

  • confirmation bias
  • blind spot bias
  • survivorship bias
  • selective perception
  • backfire effect
  • choice-supportive bias
  • conjunction fallacy
  • Dunning-Kruger effect
  • hindsight bias
  • illusory correlation
  • ostrich effect
  • pessimism bias
  • semmelweis reflex
  • false consensus effect

What’s behind these cognitive biases?

Cognitive Dissonance

One explanation is cognitive dissonance:

“anxiety that results from simultaneously holding contradictory or otherwise incompatible attitudes, beliefs, or the like, as when one likes a person but disapproves strongly of one of his or her habits.”

So for example, if you are scared to vaccinate your child, then also thinking that your intentionally unvaccinated child could catch measles and get very sick might cause some cognitive dissonance. This leads you down the road to also start to believe in much of the pseudoscience of the anti-vaccine movement, including that:

  • vaccines don’t work anyway (they do)
  • vaccine-preventable diseases, like measles, aren’t that bad (they are)
  • it is actually good to get a vaccine-preventable disease (it isn’t)
  • everyone else is vaccinated, so it doesn’t matter if my kids aren’t (it does)
  • bacteria and viruses don’t even cause disease (they do)

Vaccines work. Vaccines are necessary. Get your kids vaccinated.

What to Know About Cognitive Biases

As you get educated about vaccines, don’t let any of these cognitive biases get in your way.

More Information on Cognitive Biases:

Updated on September 24, 2017

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