THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2016

Belief in anti-vaccine conspiracy theories could risk children's health

A belief in anti-vaccine conspiracy theories could influence the intentions of parents to have their children vaccinated against diseases like measles, according to research presented on Wednesday.

Researchers Daniel Jolley and Karen Douglas conducted two studies with groups of parents related to anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. They found that such theories could prevent parents from getting their children vaccinated against deadly diseases. Jolley and Douglas presented their findings at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society's Social Psychology Section in Exeter, United Kingdom.

"The recent outbreak of measles in the U.K. illustrates the importance of vaccination," Jolley said. "Our studies demonstrate that anti-vaccine conspiracy theories may present a barrier to vaccine uptake."

In the first study, the researchers asked a sample of 89 parents about their views on anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. The participants were then asked to indicate their intent to have a fictional child vaccinated. A stronger belief in anti-vaccine conspiracy theories was associated with a lower intention to have the child vaccinated.

In a second study, Jolley and Douglas exposed participants to information related to anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. Reading the material reduced participants' intention to have a fictional child vaccinated, relative to a control group and participants who received refuting information.

"Our findings point to the potentially detrimental consequences of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories," Douglas said. "It is easy to treat belief in conspiracy theories lightly, but our studies show that wariness about conspiracy theories may be warranted."