| Forschung, SPF Wissen. Räume. Medien., Faculty of Philosophy

Immune to information

A new study carried out by the University of Constance is investigating personal attitudes towards vaccinations. It shows that preconceived opinions can be so resistant that they make people practically immune to the views of others. Scientists from the University of Erfurt and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development were also involved in the study.

The study published in the journal "Vaccine" is the first to examine in detail how the individual attitude towards vaccination (here: flu vaccination) is influenced by forces on the Internet.

Unlike similar studies that use observational data, the present study is based on a controlled social experiment. It directly measures the polarisation in online communication chains when information on vaccination risks is passed on. Contrary to the researchers' expectations, the results show that the personal attitude towards vaccination is very resistant to radicalisation and practically immune to external influences. Important conclusions for public health can be drawn from these findings. In particular, it suggests that successful health communication should focus on people who have not yet formed a firm opinion.

Overview of facts:

  • Researchers at the University of Constance have published an experimental study that investigates how arguments for and against vaccination spread from person to person depending on preconceived opinions.
  • The study finds no evidence of "echo chamber effects": Views on influenza vaccination did not become more extreme in groups of people with uniform opinions.
  • Instead, people only communicate information that fits their preconceived opinions.
  • Publication: Helge Giese, Hansjörg Neth, Mehdi Moussaïd, Cornelia Betsch, Wolfgang Gaissmaier The echo in flu-vaccination echo chambers: Selective attention trumps social influence. Vaccines (DOI: doi.org/10.1016/j.vaccine.2019.11.038).

Read the whole story in the online magazine of the University of Konstanz.