Research & Insights

Use Pictures of Scientists to Correct Vaccine Myths

Today in simple solutions: Photos of scientists can help correct the false perception that vaccines cause autism.

Visual images of scientists combined with information about the scientific consensus that vaccines are safe can combat misperceptions, according to media psychology scholar Graham N. Dixon and his colleagues.

In their study, 371 participants were first asked to read one of six modified CNN articles about the rising autism rate in the United States which either suggested that the rising rates were the result of more awareness or included a statement that vaccinations may be playing a role.

Some of the articles that mentioned the false link between vaccines and autism contained the following statement: “No scientific evidence has been found supporting the link between vaccines and autism. Furthermore, a recent poll conducted by Gallup reported 97% of medical scientists and physicians agree that vaccines do not cause autism.”

This corrective information was sometimes accompanied by a photograph of a scientist or scientists with the caption, “97% of physicians/medical scientists agree that vaccines do not cause autism.”

Participants were then asked questions about their trust in science, beliefs about autism and vaccines and knowledge of the scientific consensus.

The researchers found that participants who only read about the potential link between autism and vaccines were more likely to hold misperceptions about the safety of vaccines. The written statement about the scientific consensus lowered these misperceptions, but only among people who tend to trust science.

The articles that included a photograph of scientists with a corrective caption lowered misperceptions among all groups of participants.

These findings suggest that “providing visuals to illustrate weight-of-evidence in news coverage might also help…convince readers of a consensus among scientists regarding issues such as the nonexistent link between autism and vaccines,” according to the researchers.

Journal of Communication

Posted: April 26, 2016
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