Is science more believable when presented as conspiracy? The effect of linguistic style on vaccination intentions

Project: Research

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Recently there has been an outbreak of preventable infectious diseases, such as measles and pertussis, in the United States of America (World Health Organization, 2017). The outbreak has been associated with vaccine hesitancy (Phadke et al., 2011), which by somme is seen as a result of the spread of anti-vaccination conspiracy theories. Thus, belief in anti-conspiracy theories could be a threat to public health. Therefore, it is a priority for science and medical communicators to find means of explaining the scientific relevance of vaccination. However, debunking attempts have been shown to be either non-effective or counterproductive (Horne et al., 2015). This may be because people who believe in anti-vaccination conspiracy theories tend to generally distrust scientists (Lewandosky et al., 2013). Moreover, across cultures it has been shown that education, gender or age are not related to anti-vaccination conspiracy beliefs but a tendency in generally believing in conspiracy theories is (Hornsey et al., 2018). Additionally, there is also evidence that online conspiracy theories have certain linguistic characteristics (Samory & Mitra, 2018). Therefore, it is possible that it is not the content but rather the language of scientific information that is experienced as less trustworthy among vaccine skeptics. In this study we attempt to understand what makes anti-vaccination conspiracy theories more believable than scientific information among vaccine skeptics. Thus, we address the question whether the linguistic characteristics of scientific content has an effect on vaccination intentions. Additionally, given the mistrust towards medical professionals among vaccine skeptics, we investigate whether the status of the scientific information presenter affects vaccination intentions.
Effective start/end date01/07/201931/12/2019

ID: 169176368