Authors: Kelvin Adu-Darko, Future Science Group
The scientific community are often tasked with falsifying myths and beliefs that are generally accepted by the majority of the general public. Amongst various others, the misconception that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism is accepted by some individuals; whereby some parents have prevented their children from receiving the vaccine.
Attitudes such as this can be harmful and are a real cause for concern for the scientific community. A survey conducted on people from Scotland and Italy by researchers at the University of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, UK) aimed to change attitudes towards the MMR vaccine using scientific fact. The participants were then asked whether they would give the vaccine to their child following the provision of facts.
In this study, a survey was conducted firstly to assess the current attitudes of participants to the vaccination. The participants were then split into four different experimental conditions.
Participants in group 1 were provided with a leaflet that challenged vaccine myths with scientific facts and participants in group 2 were given a series of tables that compare the potential problems caused by MMR with the possible side effects of the MMR vaccine. In group 3, participants were shown pictures of children suffering from the MMR whereas participants in group 4 acted as a control group and were given unrelated reading material.
After partaking in the interventions, participants were asked to take the survey again to see whether their responses had changed. A week later, the survey was taken by the same participants once more to assess whether the responses had changed over the time period.
The researchers discovered that all the interventions used were counter-productive. The participants’ responses showed a strengthened belief in the MMR myths and they were now less likely to vaccinate their children. This effect was even more pronounced a week later.
According to Sergio Della Sala, a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Edinburgh, “These findings offer a useful example of how factual information is misremembered over time. Even after a short delay, facts fade from the memory, leaving behind the popular misconceptions.”
The findings from this study may have profound implications on the approach of public health campaigns to combat public misconceptions. The researchers recommended that campaigns may need to be more frequent and simultaneous, as opposed to singular large campaigns which may not be as impactful.