The Fear Factor: Examining the Impact of Fear on Vaccine Hesitancy and Anti-Vaccine Conspiracy Beliefs: FEAR, VACCINE HESITANCY AND CONSPIRACY BELIEFS

Daniel Jolley*, Lee Shepherd, Anna Maughan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: While anti-vaccine conspiracy beliefs can reduce vaccine intentions, longitudinal research shows that vaccine hesitancy can increase conspiracy beliefs. In three experiments (N = 949), we examined the effect of fear about a vaccine on vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaccine conspiracy beliefs.
Method and Measures: In Studies 1a (N = 221) and 1b (N = 508), participants were exposed to high fear (vs low fear) about a (fictional) vaccine before reporting vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaccine conspiracy beliefs. In Study 2, all participants were exposed to high fear before being asked to think about not getting vaccinated (vs vaccinated) against the (fictional) disease. Participants then reported their vaccine hesitancy, anti-vaccine conspiracy beliefs, and closeness to others who distrust official narratives.
Results: In Studies 1a and 1b, exposure to high fear (vs low fear) increased vaccine hesitancy, which was positively correlated with anti-vaccine conspiracy beliefs. The reverse model’s effect was either smaller (Study 1a) or non-significant (Study 1b). In Study 2, fear and not wanting to vaccinate resulted in vaccine hesitancy, which then predicted anti-vaccine conspiracy beliefs and feeling closer to those distrusting official narratives.
Conclusion: Therefore, fear creates a response not to get vaccinated. A conspiracy belief may then justify this response.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychology & Health
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 10 Jul 2024

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