n-COVIDpsychology

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's data shows that 57.5% of the United States population is vaccinated against COVID-19. But for those who aren’t vaccinated, there are questions as to what is holding them back.

Lawrence Scharmann, a professor in the College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has explored why individuals aren’t vaccinated. One of those main reasons is misinformation. 

On the CDC website, there is an entire section dedicated to vaccine misinformation, identifying how to address and stop it. 

Scharmann said he believes fear is what drives misinformation and how it affects people to make decisions on whether to be vaccinated. 

“Fear is an adaptation, and fear is productive as an adaptation,” Scharmann said. “We're using it as fight-or-flight syndrome, adrenaline gets produced and we figured out a way to survive. But like any strength, it has its downside, and the downside of this is when it's maladaptive.”

Scharmann said it’s this maladaptive form of fear that drives misinformation. When someone goes back to listen to the same source because of their fear, it doesn’t allow them to get a broader picture. 

Ingrid Haas, a psychology and political science professor at UNL, said motivated reasoning is a relevant concept from political psychology as to why people are drawn to misinformation. 

“People aren't always motivated by accuracy when they're searching for information online and sometimes they might be driven more by trying to find information that already supports what they already believe and either avoid or try to counter argue against information that's inconsistent with what they already believe,” Haas stated. 

When information is released in a politicized way, political groups can play a role too, Haas said. If a political group releases information that someone’s ideological beliefs align with, then they are more likely to accept that information. Haas pointed out that COVID-19 became a politicized issue as early as spring 2020. 

“Poll data and research evidence seems to suggest that [COVID-19] was politicized pretty early on, in a way that Republicans and Democrats started to show pretty different attitudes and beliefs about the pandemic, even in 2020,” she said.

Haas said that in order to prevent consuming this misinformation, diversifying what someone is reading is important. People tend to craft their social networks so that they're more likely to follow people that they agree with than they are to follow people that they don't agree with. 

“If you are going on social media and make an effort to diversify your network, follow a bunch of liberal sources, but then also follow a bunch of conservative sources or follow some sources that are kind of more moderate or in-between,” Haas said. 

When deciphering if the information people consume is accurate, Haas said that being aware of where the information is coming from and how someone is thinking about the information is important. 

“Be critical in terms of evaluating the source of information online and try to make sure that it's coming from a valid source,” she said. “Try to make sure that there's actually research supporting the claim, especially when we talk about COVID and public health information.” 

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