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Suspect beliefs threaten public health

10. 7. 2024 | 620 visits

In recent years, we have witnessed an unbridled spread of suspect beliefs, that may pose significant risks when complying with regulations recommended by the World Health Organization. Suspect beliefs cover a wide range of irrational, paranormal, conspiracy and pseudoscientific beliefs that contradict scientific views about the world. The prevalence of the suspect beliefs may threaten public health, for example, vaccination and prevention programmes.

"In the context of vaccination, suspect beliefs can lead people to a fundamental hesitation to vaccinate themselves or their children, thus threatening collective immunity, and is a risk not only for individuals but also for the wider community. During the COVID-19 pandemic, conspiracy theories about the origin, spread and effectiveness of vaccines became very popular, with more than 20% of people endorsing at least one COVID-related conspiracy belief during that time," says Eva Ballová Mikušková of the Institute of Experimental Psychology of Centre of social and psychological sciences SAS.

Those with conspiracy beliefs were less likely to follow precautions and more inclined to use pseudoscientific health practices—for example, promoting the use of colloidal silver or vitamin C during a pandemic, thereby endangering public health.

“A significant number of people in various countries believed and still believe that their government is covering up the side effects (in their opinion, negative) of vaccines and that they are deliberately not promoting or banning alternative or natural treatments for severe diseases. All of this adds to the scepticism about vaccination. This trend has also spread to other areas of health and is related not only to scepticism towards vaccines but also to the tendency to use scientifically unproven, potentially harmful procedures of alternative medicine, and, at the same time, reduces trust in standard health care," claims Lena Adamus of the Institute of Experimental Psychology of Centre of social and psychological sciences SAS.

Given the alarming correlation between suspect beliefs and their adverse health consequences, researchers and health professionals have called for targeted interventions to expose these beliefs and work to restore trust in science and health systems.

"Uncovering suspect beliefs is not only difficult but often insufficient because the beliefs persist even after we uncover them. That is precisely why our recently published study investigated the possibility of rectifying suspect beliefs about vaccines and vaccination, and also what influence such beliefs can have on the choices of Slovaks in the healthcare area. The main objective of our research was to test an intervention to uncover suspect beliefs about vaccines. At the same time, we tested the effectiveness of debunking suspect beliefs to enhance general attitudes towards vaccines, intentions to vaccinate against human papillomavirus (HPV) and increasing the intention to seek medical help in case of need," ads the experts. 

The results of the study indicate that people who support various suspect beliefs have less positive attitudes towards vaccination, a lower willingness to get vaccinated against HPV, express weaker support for the vaccination programme and are less willing to seek medical help and consultations. This means that suspect beliefs are difficult to debunk and that they can have adverse and long-term effects on prevention programmes and the future level and quality of public health.

More information can be found in this free article:

Adamus, M., Ballová Mikušková, E., & Kohut, M. (2024). Conspire to one's own detriment: Strengthening HPV Program Support Through Debunking Epistemically Suspect Beliefs. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1111/aphw.12570

 

Edited by Monika Tináková

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