Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday July 15, 2022
Exposure to humorous memes about anti-vaxxers boosts intention to get a COVID-19 vaccine, study finds
Pro-vaccination messaging may be surprisingly effective when delivered through humorous internet memes, according to new findings published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. A series of studies revealed that exposure to sarcastic memes about anti-vaxxers increased UK residents’ intention to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The researchers suggest that the humorous memes were able to bypass the typical defense processes of people who are vaccine-hesitant.
As a vaccine emerged to combat the novel coronavirus, public health officials in Western countries grappled with convincing the population to get vaccinated. Vaccine misinformation was rampant, and officials turned to educational campaigns backed by expert sources to persuade the public that the vaccine was safe and effective.
Unfortunately, such educational campaigns can backfire, since people who are vaccine-hesitant are prone to conspiracy belief and tend to be distrustful of authoritative sources. Informational campaigns are also not designed to go viral on social media and can become easily outpaced by anti-vaccine messaging. A team of psychology researchers led by Shawn N. Geniole proposed a need for newer interventions that use messaging that is highly shareable, scalable, and unlikely to be perceived as corrupt — something like an internet meme.
“I find memes to be interesting because they can spread–and be processed by viewers–quite rapidly; therefore, any messages/text within memes may have the potential to persuade/inform others efficiently,” explained Geniole, an assistant professor at University of the Fraser Valley.
“Further, that they’re processed and spread rapidly also means that they may reach and influence individuals who would otherwise not encounter–or might even try to avoid–such information. For example, the type of humor within memes, which often belittles or makes fun of certain groups of individuals or their beliefs, may lead some to rethink their views or to distance themselves from others who hold these views. Can exposure to these types of memes changes one’s beliefs or the extent to which they identify with certain groups? These were the types of ideas/questions that interested me when we started this project.”
The researchers designed six studies involving a total of 1,584 residents of the United Kingdom. In each of these studies, participants were randomly assigned to either an experimental or a control condition. The experimental group viewed a series of eight vaccination-related internet memes that had been collected by researchers using Google Image Search, and the control group viewed control images. While the memes varied slightly depending on the study, the majority of them expressed sarcasm toward anti-vaxxers.
After viewing the images, participants were asked whether they intended to get vaccinated against COVID-19. A combined analysis of all six studies revealed that exposure to the vaccine memes increase participants’ intentions to get vaccinated, even after accounting for gender, age, and political orientation.
The study authors say that future research will be needed to explore the psychological processes through which internet memes may impact vaccine attitudes and behaviors. It will also be important to test how this effect may change depending on contextual factors, such as the stages of vaccine development.
The study, “Preliminary evidence that brief exposure to vaccination-related internet memes may influence intentions to vaccinate against COVID-19”, was authored by Shawn N. Geniole, Brian M. Bird, Alayna Witzel, Jordan T. McEvoy, and Valentina Proietti. (PsyPost)
Letters to the Editor, the Hamilton Spectator, Tuesday July 15, 2022
Booster cartoon 1:
Regarding MacKay’s pro-booster cartoon Friday: It is obvious, Mr. MacKay, how little you’ve grown in a year and a half!
Marilyn Haughton, Hamilton
Booster cartoon 2:
The Facebook comments on MacKay’s cartoon depicting anti-vaxxers was predictable, with those same anti-vaxxer idiots whining about being treated unfairly.
In my view, his depiction was too kind. These people are public-health hazard losers and deserve to be shunned by all decent people.
Anna Carter, Burlington