The Decision to Vaccinate is an Emotional One…Here’s Why We Make the Decisions We Make
Oct 07, 2019

The following is a guest post by Taryn Chapman – a medical molecular biologist, mother of two, and the creator of “The Vaccine Mom.”

Questioning Woman with her Hands UpVaccinating is a no-brainer to most parents, as protecting their children from diseases outweighs the rare risks of a vaccine injury. Then why, do I wonder, are some people becoming so hesitant to vaccinate? As a scientist and vaccine advocate, it’s hard to understand why some people can’t see facts as facts.


Why do people make the decision not to vaccinate, and how can we help turn around what feels like a losing battle? 

As it turns out, there’s a science behind this.Babie with glasses leaning on text book with scientific equations in background.

So, I turned to an expert in emotional decision-making, Dr. Kirsten Kloock, PsyD., a licensed clinical psychologist, to find out why people make the decisions they do.

Dr. Kloock has learned that people decide to vaccinate, whether they choose to or not, based on anxiety and fear. People are afraid of either disease or injury. 

Much of our anxiety doesn’t make sense. It used to be a primitive response to things like outrunning a bear or gathering enough food to make it through the winter. Today we have anxiety about making it to work on time and having enough money.

“It’s okay to worry about things that have a basis in reality,” says Dr. Kloock, but the truth is that vaccines are safe and effective.

My thoughts are that a lot of anxiety comes from knowing too much or knowing too little or maybe just not knowing at all. Our brains are overwhelmed and overstimulated. Do we have too much information at our fingertips? The answer is “yes”, and it’s easy to fall victim to misinformation.

As humans, we make emotional connections and form beliefs very easily to incorrect information. When people form an opinion, they tend to search for only information to confirm this already held belief. “Confirmatory bias,” Dr. Kloock says, “is when someone needs to confirm they’re right even though they may see facts that continually disprove their belief.”

Someone presented with a fact that contradicts their inaccurate belief causes a person to double-down and reject reality. This is what Dr. Kloock calls the “backlash effect,” something that often happens with vaccine-hesitant people.

Emotional decision making leaves it hard for people to separate fact from fiction. 

All people are hard-wired to be curious and want to discover. Some seek to be accurate, and some attempt to be correct. Accurate information is what we know to be scientific fact. People who want to be accurate accept the facts no matter if it goes against their beliefs. People who want to be correct look for information to support their opinions even if it goes against what experts state to be true. Correct-seekers aren’t asking themselves, “are my beliefs accurate?”

People who prefer facts over being correct are less likely to be swayed toward incorrect information. Being swayed is more common when a person is part of a group of other people who hold the same belief.

Group of pregnant womenJoining a social media group of vaccine-hesitant parents, for example, may help solidify the belief that vaccines are harmful. Once someone joins a group of like-minded people, the fear and loss of this tribe may keep them from forming a different opinion.

Dr. Kloock calls this the “tribe mentality.” Being a part of a tribe is such a huge part of our identity and forms our core beliefs. Following the herd may keep people from seeking accurate information.

So how can we shift people toward accepting accurate information about vaccines versus looking for evidence to support their incorrect beliefs and fears?

Dr. Kloock and I agree when we say that all parents want to protect their children.

Mom and dad holding smiling babyShe makes a good point in saying that a lot of power comes from the words “I hear you.” Goodwill, compassion, and connecting on common ground is essential when advocating that people vaccinate their children.

“Words really matter,” she states. We need to stop replacing “I know” with “I believe” when we talk about the facts. She says that when we use the phrase, “I believe vaccines work,” it’s stating an opinion and creates an emotional conversation. Saying, “I know vaccines work,” even though it may lead to disagreement, will open up a dialogue to state how that information is valid.

“We need to change the way we talk about vaccines because we don’t believe in facts we know facts,” states Dr. Kloock.

She has some tips not to fall victim to emotional decision-making when it comes to incorrect information.

First off, ask yourself, “Am I looking at good sources?”

She suggests reading peer-reviewed studies and making sure you are looking at unbiased, fact-checking websites.

 Ask yourself these questions when doing your online research:

  1. Can I find this information about vaccines from more than one credible source?
  2. Am I using search terms like “vaccine injuries” or “vaccine harms” that will automatically bring me to sources that don’t understand the benefits of vaccinations?
  3. Do most experts in the field of public health/immunization generally agree with this information?

If you’re struggling to find what you believe to be true, and what you believe to be true is contrary to what the experts say, then it’s likely that you are not accurate. If this is true, Dr. Kloock asks you to use your curiosity to explore new vantage points.

“Accurateness over correctness needs to start becoming more popular,” says Dr. Kloock. “Make being accurate part of your core identity.”

Look for a tribe of people who value accurateness over correctness—people who will not be swayed toward emotional decision-making and instead, will see facts as facts.

This is sound advice for all aspects of decision-making. Of course, you don’t need to become a fact-checking robot when it comes to making decisions in your everyday life. However, when it comes to deciding to vaccinate your child, it’s important to understand that vaccines are safe and effective. Making the decision to not vaccinate your child leaves him exposed to potentially deadly diseases.

Check out Vaccinate Your Family’s Questions About Vaccines section for answers to your commonly-asked questions about vaccines and visit The Vaccine Mom.

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