Summary: Vaccine skeptics have lower trust in doctors and are more likely to use alternative medicine. Researchers say vaccine recommendations given by authorities or as a result of social pressure cause defiance in those who are anti-vaccine.
Source: University of Turku
A new study shows that individuals who react negatively to rules and recommendations and have lower trust in doctors more often use complementary and alternative medicine, that is, treatments or substances that are not included in the care offered or recommended by doctors. The study included altogether 770 parents of young children.
The results of a study conducted by scientists at the University of Turku, Åbo Akademi University, and University of Bristol, show that people who tend to react negatively to rules and recommendations have lower trust in medical doctors and a more negative attitude towards vaccines, or reject vaccines for themselves or their children.
“The vaccine recommendations given by authorities or the social pressure in society to get vaccinated may cause defiance in people who tend to react negatively when they feel that they are forced to do something or that someone is trying to persuade them,” says Anna Soveri, Academy Research Fellow at the University of Turku, Finland.
Because of the defiance, people may act contrary to what is expected of them.
“In this case, defiance can lead to scepticism towards medical doctors and negative attitudes towards vaccines, or even vaccine refusal,” says Soveri.
Use of Alternative Medicine Quite Common
The study also showed that defiance and low trust in doctors are related to a higher likelihood to use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM refers to treatments and substances that are not included in evidence-based medicine, meaning treatments and substances for which the efficacy has not been clearly demonstrated through established scientific methods.
In the study, 770 parents of young children were presented with a list of CAM products, from which they were asked to select the ones they had used during the past 12 months to treat an illness or to maintain good health. Almost 40 percent of the parents reported using one or more CAM products.
“To use complementary and alternative medicine may be a way for people to feel like they are free to make decisions in matters that concern their own health,” says Soveri.
High Trust towards Doctors
Half of the parents reported that they had taken the flu vaccine during the preceding season. Approximately 75 percent of the parents had accepted the childhood vaccines for their children without hesitation, but approximately seven percent had refused to take a vaccine for their child at least once.
However, most parents expressed high or relatively high trust in doctors.
“For example, nine out of ten parents partly or completely trusted the doctors’ ability to make correct diagnoses and that doctors have their patients’ best interest in mind when making health-related decisions,’ tells Soveri.
The parents who participated in the study are part of the FinnBrain Birth Cohort Study at the University of Turku.
The study was published in July in the international scientific journal PLOS ONE
Trait reactance and trust in doctors as predictors of vaccination behavior, vaccine attitudes, and use of complementary and alternative medicine in parents of young children
Objective The aim of the present study was to investigate whether anti-vaccination attitudes and behavior, and positive attitudes to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), are driven by trait reactance and a distrust in medical doctors.
Methods The sample consisted of 770 Finnish parents who filled out an online survey. Structural equation modeling (SEM) was used to examine if trait reactance plays a role in vaccination decisions, vaccine attitudes, and in the use of CAM, and whether that relationship is mediated by trust in medical doctors.
Results Parents with higher trait reactance had lower trust in doctors, more negative attitudes to vaccines, a higher likelihood of not accepting vaccines for their children and themselves, and a higher likelihood to use CAM treatments that are not included in evidence-based medicine. Our analyses also revealed associations between vaccination behavior and CAM use and vaccine attitudes and CAM use, but there was no support for the previous notion that these associations would be explained by trait reactance and trust in doctors.
Conclusions Taken together, higher trait reactance seems to be relevant for attitudes and behaviors that go against conventional medicine, because trait reactance is connected to a distrust in medical doctors. Our findings also suggest that high trait reactance and low trust in doctors function differently for different people: For some individuals they might be associated with anti-vaccination attitudes and behavior, while for others they might be related to CAM use. We speculate that this is because people differ in what is important to them, leading them to react against different aspects of conventional medicine.