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A Social Norms Approach intervention to address misperceptions of anti-vaccine conspiracy beliefs amongst UK parents

Cookson, Darel, Jolley, Daniel, Dempsey, Robert C and Povey, Rachel (2021) A Social Norms Approach intervention to address misperceptions of anti-vaccine conspiracy beliefs amongst UK parents. PLOS ONE, 16 (11). e0258985-e0258985. ISSN 1932-6203

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Abstract

Anti-vaccine conspiracy beliefs among parents can reduce vaccination intentions. Parents’ beliefs in anti-vaccine conspiracy theories are also related to their perceptions of other parents’ conspiracy beliefs. Further, research has shown that parents hold misperceptions of anti-vaccine conspiracy belief norms: UK parents over-estimate the anti-vaccine conspiracy beliefs of other parents. The present study tested the effectiveness of a Social Norms Approach intervention, which corrects misperceptions using normative feedback, to reduce UK parents’ anti-vaccine conspiracy beliefs and increase vaccination intentions. At baseline, 202 UK parents of young children reported their personal belief in anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, future intentions to vaccinate, and their perceptions of other UK parents’ beliefs and intentions. Participants were then randomly assigned to a normative feedback condition (n = 89) or an assessment-only control condition (n = 113). The normative feedback compared participants’ personal anti-vaccine conspiracy beliefs and perceptions of other UK parents’ beliefs with actual normative belief levels. Parents receiving the normative feedback showed significantly reduced personal belief in anti-vaccine conspiracy beliefs at immediate post-test. As hypothesised, changes in normative perceptions of anti-vaccine conspiracy beliefs mediated the effect of the intervention. The intervention, did not directly increase vaccination intentions, however mediation analysis showed that the normative feedback increased perceptions of other parents’ vaccination intentions, which in turn increased personal vaccination intentions. No significant effects remained after a six-week follow-up. The current research demonstrates the potential utility of Social Norms Approach interventions for correcting misperceptions and reducing anti-vaccine conspiracy beliefs among UK parents. Further research could explore utilising a top-up intervention to maintain the efficacy.

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