Social Identity Within the Anti-Vaccine Movement

Summary: A new study reveals up to 22% of Americans are self-identified anti-vaxxers and embrace the label as a form of social identity.

Source: Texas A&M

A study of more than 1,000 demographically representative participants found that about 22 percent of Americans self-identify as anti-vaxxers, and tend to embrace the label as a form of social identity.

According to the study by researchers including Texas A&M University School of Public Health assistant professor Timothy Callaghan, 8 percent of this group “always” self-identify this way, with 14 percent “sometimes” identifying as part of the anti-vaccine movement.

The results were published in the journal Politics, Groups, and Identities.

“We found these results both surprising and concerning,” Callaghan said. “The fact that 22 percent of Americans at least sometimes identify as anti-vaxxers was much higher than expected and demonstrates the scope of the challenge in vaccinating the population against COVID-19 and other vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Researchers also found that participants who scored high on the anti-vaccine identity measure were less trusting of scientific experts and more individualistic. Additionally, study results show that there is increased opposition to childhood vaccine requirements among those who self-identify as anti-vaxxers.

The study serves as a “blueprint” for other researchers to further examine how socially identifying as an anti-vaxxer impacts health policies and public health.

This shows a gloved hand holding a COVID vaccine vial
Researchers also found that participants who scored high on the anti-vaccine identity measure were less trusting of scientific experts and more individualistic. Image is in the public domain

Callaghan notes that Americans socially identifying as anti-vaxxers adds another layer of complexity to mitigating the anti-vaccine movement. Changing a core feature of one’s underlying social identity is a difficult task — one that likely cannot be fixed with traditional public health messaging.

Moving forward, Callaghan and other members of the research team hope to investigate how endorsement of the anti-vaccine label varies across the country based on states and levels of rurality, as well as interventions that might reduce individuals’ social attachment to the label.

About this psychology research news

Source: Texas A&M
Contact: Rae Lynn Mitchell – Texas A&M
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Closed access.
Identifying the prevalence, correlates, and policy consequences of anti-vaccine social identity” by Timothy Callaghan et al. Politics, Groups and Identities


Identifying the prevalence, correlates, and policy consequences of anti-vaccine social identity

Scholarly and journalistic profiles of anti-vaxxers – i.e., individuals who are active in efforts to oppose widespread vaccination – suggest that some Americans may identify with the “anti-vaccine” label in order to fulfill social goals (e.g., a sense of belonging in a broader community).

This is potentially problematic, as anti-vaxx social identification (AVSID) could imply increased receptivity to vaccine misinformation, and resistance to evidence-based medicine. In a large and demographically representative survey (N = 1001), we propose a novel measure of AVSID, and take stock of its prevalence and correlates.

We find that about 22% of Americans always (8%) or sometimes (14%) self-identify as “anti-vaxxers” (activists who support vaccine refusal), and that those who do tend to embrace the label as a form of social identity. We also find that people who score highly on our AVSID measure tend to be less trusting of scientific experts and more individualistic.

Finally, predictive validation analyses suggest that – among self-identified anti-vaxxers – AVSID is associated with increased opposition to childhood vaccine requirements.

We conclude by outlining how our AVSID measure can be implemented to inform future research on opposition to evidence-based medicine and related public policies.

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  1. Anti-vax sentiment is absolutely fascinating. The mental effort you can see being deployed; the twisting and turning to justify continuing the confabulation. As applied to COVID it’s simply bonkers. You’ve got massive amounts of death on one side, and a minute risk of side effects on the other. It’s a no-brainer: millions upon millions of people have had their vaccines already and are obviously fine. So how have so many convinced themselves otherwise?

  2. The fact this article even mentions the term anti-vaxxers opens my eyes to widespread social manipulation and a ruck of misinformation has occurred over the past 5-10 years. It has led to this opinion piece and led to such ‘movements’ as ‘anti-vaxxer’.

    I’m not targeting YouTubers here for spreading the misinformation – they are simply the fallout – I’m talking about government/media/big pharma/big business colluding to take the pandemic wherever they can benefit the most, regardless of the outcome for Joe Public.

    As such, the information contained in this must be treated with no more seriousness than the opinion piece it is.

    Only yesterday on the BBC News stated “masks are still effective even with gaps around the edge”, whereas nine studies over the past six months say the opposite.

    We get world leaders at the G7 wearing no masks coming to the UK without quarantine flanked by thousands of police, then we get an outbreak in the same area. Then we get told “we’ve all got to do our bit”, just hours after, by the same people.

    Those people 48 hours earlier: the British PM and wife got a PLANE to Cornwall, a few hours drive away from London – then the press greenwash society with gushing tales of the “PM’s wife in a rented sustainable dress”. That’s not an information source I or anybody can trust. This is paid for by the public, the majority of which are worryingly susceptible to this manipulation.

    I’m sure the press would turn society against anyone, should they bring a cruise ship with COVID to a sleepy seaside town and run amok. Not the powers that be. Free ride, bury the bad stuff. This speaks volumes in terms of source trustworthiness. It doesn’t exist any more – and left the building around the time I first heard terms such as ‘anti vaxxer’.

    Now, I feel like we’ve been subjected to a 10 year social manipulation plan leading up to now. Best guess given the dishonesty we receive.

    Inconsistent, dishonest leadership creates these problems. Period. Who started the movement? I’m sure with all the technology in the world we can work that out if we wanted to. I guarantee it starts at a news outlet spoon fed a story. That’s some research I could get behind, origins of misinformation. But nope – sewn up.

    It’s all starting to feel like the human race is being manouvered into a position of vaxxer or anti vaxxer, good or evil, but only the unimportant ones.

    If there was ever a time to come clean and show clear messaging from up high without social engineering, lying and making a fast buck, this is it. Whilst we get a constant stream of misinformation from supposed trusted sources, more and more people are going to be suspicious of what’s happening around them and splinter away from whatever society is currently being remodelled to be.

    For the record, I an not anti vaccination. But I am anti misinformation. I thought I would wait a while to see how this unfolded before getting mine – as I worked in Big Pharma for many years and know how long it takes to push trials through. It’s gone excatly as I predicted. I was hesitant at first – now I’m outright suspicious.

  3. I am anti-vax…all vaccines. I am also anti-drugs. So what? Is that a crime according to the socially inclined anti-opposite-opinion dictators? However, I couldn’t care less if I am labelled this or that. I support no vaccines because big pharma does NOT support them…period! Since pharma wants us to believe that experimental (still in stage 3 trials, by the way for another 2 years) mRNA injections are safe and effective and if that is the truth, then why do they not accept full culpability or responsibility for these injections? How can I in good faith or good conscience accept an injection that is NOT backed by any guarantee of safety or efficacy? If, as big pharma says by telling us to trust them, they do not stand behind their products…why in the good name of sanity should I?

    1. The vaccines are backed up by concluded phase 3 trials involving thousands of participants. Is it possible you aren’t aware of them because you don’t want to be? Here’s one example:

      Some rushing is surely to be forgiven, in the context of a raging pandemic that has already killed millions world-wide. If the vaccine was for some minor, rare disease, perhaps your hesitancy would be understandable, but in this case the risk calculation is completely one-sided. Isn’t it?

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