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The Journal Of The InnKeeper
Ranty Lessons by Joreth
Cultural Cognition 
15th-Jan-2010 09:20 pm
frustration, ::headdesk::

A study was released on January 13 of this year with some really interesting results on "cultural cognition".  They wanted to find out who thought the HPV vaccine was risky and who didn't, and why.  The "who" came as no surprise to me, but the "why" was interesting.

Interviews of more than 1,500 U.S. adults reveal that individuals who favor authority and other traditional values and who are likely to see the HPV vaccine as condoning premarital sex perceive the vaccine as risky. Individuals who strongly support gender equality and government involvement in basic health care are more likely to see the vaccine as low risk and high benefit.

See that? It's not just that religious people don't want the vaccine because sex is immoral, it's that people who think sex is immoral ALSO think it's "risky". People's cultural values affect how they perceive risk - not facts, not statistics, but a totally unrelated set of subjective values changes how a person evaluates facts and data that has nothing to do with those values.

I totally get that if someone is opposed to premarital sex for religious reasons, and if a vaccine comes along to reduce or eliminate one of the possible drawbacks to sex, that person might be opposed to the vaccine because he might think people will go off and have sex now that it's "safe". I think it's highly unethical to encourage disease, suffering & death in order to "punish" people for doing an activity that *you* don't like, but I see how one follows from the other - if you think action A is bad, then there should be some punishment for people who do it and I get that logic (the part where I have a problem is when action A is agreed upon by all involved & the person who thinks it's bad isn't participating, that and the whole idea of punishing a natural human need that evolution has seen fit to encourage for the survival of our genes, but that's another rant).

I think to some extent it's true - if sex had fewer complications, *some* people would have more of it with a wider variety of partners.  But what I don't get is "premarital sex is immoral, therefore this vaccine is dangerous and will cause you to have a stroke".  I would have more respect for someone who said "I read the data and the vaccine seems perfectly safe, but I'm opposed to it on moral reasons".  At least that's being honest ... stupid, but honest.

They also discovered that when you give people a well-balanced view on the vaccine, they got MORE OPPOSED to it if they were already opposed to it. This is called "bias assimilation", apparently.

Let me say that again in another way: Giving people information to make up their own minds MAKES THEM MORE RESISTANT TO ACCEPTING THE DATA. Sorry you Libertarians who think there shouldn't be any controls or standards in place and that people should just have all the info they want to make their own choices with no mandates or government agencies to oversee the population, but this just DOES NOT WORK. When it comes to things like vaccines, other people's choices affect everyone around them and people do not make good choices even (and especially) if you present them with the information they need to make those choices.

The joke about sticking fingers in ears and yelling "LALALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU!" isn't really a joke it would seem.

They also found out that what made people more willing to moderate their positions from their adamant opposition to the vaccine was hearing that someone who they perceived to have similar cultural background, or had "cultural credibility", take the pro-vaccine stance.

In other words, they were only willing to take their fingers out of the ears if the person speaking to them looked like them. This is a complete reliance upon the Argument From Authority - the message is exactly the same, but they were only willing to believe it if the messenger wasn't "too different" from themselves.

The concluding message from this study was that if we want to get our point across about the safety of vaccinations, we have to cultivate a very diverse group of spokespeople, so that no matter what cultural identity our audience has, *someone* will be "good enough" for the audience to listen to.
10th-Feb-2010 03:45 pm (UTC)
Surprised this hasn't received any other comments. Then again it's scary stuff... the temptation to pop my fingers in my ears and pretend that people aren't so stupid is strong!
6th-Sep-2012 02:02 pm (UTC)
I just heard a talk Tuesday night from a psychologist about the role of perceived plausibility in accepting new ideas or changing old opinions. (The speaker studied learning of global warming/climate change, but it's applicable to other issues too.) His framework was that before people can even critically evaluate evidence, they make a decision about whether the evidence is plausible (potentially believable), and then only if the new evidence is more plausible than what they already believe do they actually go and look at the new evidence. Two things which affect the plausibility of the new evidence are the complexity of the evidence (so if it's really complex they're less likely to believe it), and how believable they feel the person presenting the evidence is. These are exactly what you commented on above: that more evidence tends to end up making people trust the HPV vaccine less (because more complex evidence makes people feel it's less plausible), and that people believe it more if someone "like themselves" take a particular stance (because they feel that person is more believable).
15th-Sep-2012 02:40 am (UTC)
That's interesting, thanks for letting me know! This is why the political climate in the US is so frustrating - everyone wants a "president I can drink a beer with" and soundbite answers to complex issues.
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