Undecided on getting a Covid-19 vaccine? Beware of these two cognitive biases
Dr Joshua Liao explains how people can approach the decision to get vaccinated and avoid some common biases that can skew perceptions of the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.
Covid-19 vaccines have arrived in the United States Although this is good news, even safe and effective vaccines will underperform their potential if Americans turn them down. Unfortunately, there is cause for concern: recent polls suggest that only 29% of people would definitely get a vaccine to prevent Covid-19 if it were one, while 18% would definitely not get one.
For the many other undecided Americans, it is essential to think clearly about the risks and benefits when making vaccination decisions. One obvious obstacle is the widespread misinformation about vaccines. But behavioral science points to another: as humans, we are susceptible to cognitive biases that sometimes help us make decisions under pressure or uncertainty, but can also lead us astray into bad choices in things. ‘other situations.
Americans should be especially alert to two common biases that can skew perceptions about the efficacy and safety of vaccines.
This phenomenon describes how people make decisions by giving importance to the information that comes most easily to them. For example, striking TV coverage of an investment in stocks can make people buy, despite disturbing but less easily remembered information in prospectus materials. As another example, news of a recent plane crash may cause a person to drive rather than fly to a destination, despite the proven safety of air travel compared to car travel.
Even though remembering an event and estimating its risk are not the same, humans tend to mix the two, overestimating the likelihood of events where examples easily come to mind. This trend can negatively impact decisions about the Covid-19 vaccine.
Since common post-vaccine reactions – such as minor, short-lived symptoms such as pain at the injection site – are not very newsworthy, media coverage may tilt toward the grasp, but rare examples severe allergic reaction or improper handling of the vaccine that makes it ineffective. Of course, it is crucial to watch for all problems and adverse events, even rare ones. But prioritizing them in the news cycle can cause Americans to overinflate the dangers of vaccines.
This bias describes how people tend to seek out and prioritize information that supports their previous beliefs or values. For example, if a person already thinks a coworker is angry with them, they may be tricked into attributing that coworker’s delayed email responses to passive aggression rather than just being busy – performing actions. potentially neutral as well as negative. A similar dynamic may exist when people seek information on social issues such as gun control or abortion laws.
These examples and many more point to a two-way view: humans often believe things they want or already believe to be true; and reject things that they hope or already believe are wrong. A consequence of confirmation bias is that people shut themselves off from new information and act in ways that become self-fulfilling prophecies.
In the case of Covid-19, people predisposed to be wary of vaccines may be made aware of information that confirms that mistrust, versus information that supports the benefits and safety of vaccines. This type of confirmation bias can have negative spillover effects if it affects leaders or citizens in positions of influence.
What can Americans do to combat availability and confirmation bias? As obvious as it is, the first step is to recognize that they exist and apply to vaccination decisions. The adage is true here: we can’t change what we don’t recognize.
The next step is to translate this awareness into a more impartial approach to learning about vaccines. For individuals, this may imply a diversification of information and information sources. Few things amplify availability and confirmation biases like the echo chambers of filter bubbles – the isolated spheres of information created by ubiquitous custom searches and news feed algorithms. Information from any source of information can also be compared to resources provided through the United States Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention.
Media executives could directly consider the potential for cognitive bias when selecting articles and inviting guest commentators, asking “which will give a precise idea of the problems and counterbalance the prejudices?“ not only “which ones will attract the most viewers or readers?“Public health and community leaders might take similar perspectives in how they choose how to disseminate information through their networks and platforms.
To be fair, there is no silver bullet to tackling vaccine hesitancy, in part because people can refuse vaccination for different reasons. Cognitive biases can also go both ways. For example, people already predisposed to believe in vaccines may be more closed to information that might emerge about the dangers. As we collect more information – on things like additional side effects, duration of immunity, and performance among different patient groups – we all need to guard against blind spots and accurately assess new information. on the efficacy and safety of vaccines.
Nonetheless, the available data suggests that we should celebrate the arrival of these first Covid-19 vaccines. Addressing cognitive biases can help Americans more clearly weigh vaccination decisions and give the country the best possible chance of weathering the pandemic.