According to this research, eight percent of Americans always refuse vaccines. Why?
- New research found that 22 percent of Americans identify as somewhat or fully resistant to vaccination.
- Researchers used two social psychology theories to explore the causes of vaccine resistance.
- The more one identifies with an anti-vaccine group, the harder it is to dissuade them from their ideas.
Vaccine hesitancy is top of mind for global public health officials, and the reasons for this resistance are manifold. A group of American researchers recently focused on social identity as a motivating factor. Their study, published in the journal Politics, Groups, and Identities, found that group identification was an important factor for just over one-fifth of citizens.
Anti-vaxx social identification (AVSID) includes 22 percent of Americans — 14 percent of whom identify as "sometimes" resistant, while eight percent claim to "always" refuse vaccines. While on its face this appears to be a medical decision, the research team, led by Oklahoma State University political scientist Matt Motta, sought to discover the relevance of group acceptance.
Social psychology really matters
Previous research has found that anti-vaxxers conform to in-group norms by expressing skepticism against anyone that questions their autonomy and rejecting broader public health recommendations by out-group experts. Such resistance, they write, may result from identity protective cognition, that is, the avoidance of anything that challenges deeply held beliefs.
For this study, the team relied on the following two psychological theories:
- Social identity theory (SIT). Coined by social psychologists Henri Tajfel and John Turner, this theory predicts in-group behavior is due to perceived status differences as well as the legitimacy and stability of such differences. SIT predominantly focuses on the psychological motivations for group membership and attachment.
- Self-categorization theory (SCT). This social psychology theory is focused on the cognitive motivations for defining group membership. Also developed by John Turner, SCT investigates the consequences of perceiving people in group terms.
SIT argues that categorization can lead to identification depending on how personally each individual takes the content matter. In this case, when vaccine resistance provides self-esteem and personal meaning, then heightened group identification will merge with their identity. SCT steps in to cement the individual relationship to the content (vaccine resistance) and provides context for the group to flourish.
"Upon socially identifying with a group, people come to understand group membership in comparison to those not in the group, or to those in opposing groups. People then tend to favor members of the in-group and imbue positive characteristics onto them, whereas members of the out-group are viewed with suspicion and oftentimes are seen negatively."Rally goers protest vaccines and the current administration during the "World Wide Rally for Freedom", an anti-mask and anti-vaccine rally, at the State House in Concord, New Hampshire, May 15, 2021.
Rally goers protest vaccines and the current administration during the "World Wide Rally for Freedom", an anti-mask and anti-vaccine rally, at the State House in Concord, New Hampshire, May 15, 2021. Photo by Joseph Prezioso / AFP via Getty Images
Following the herd, but not the immune kind
This mindset has profound social implications. While the U.S. has a goal to vaccinate 70 percent of American adults by July 4, public health officials are still concerned that another wave of COVID-19 will hit this summer due to millions of Americans refusing the jab.
While social psychology theories cannot explain all 22 percent of vaccine-hesitant individuals, the researchers are confident that they provide meaning for at least part of that population. People in this group often refuse to have their children vaccinated and also are more likely to express interest in "intuitive" thinking around health and medicine rather than accept empirical data offered by professionals.
Surveying over 5,000 Americans, the team discovered that full-blown anti-vaxxers (8 percent) were more likely to identify as a group than vaccine-hesitant respondents (14 percent). They also found that such respondents were more likely to engage in conspiratorial thinking. They write:
"People who embrace folk theories about medicine — i.e., inter-generationally transmitted beliefs about medicine that are widely held, but factually inaccurate — have been shown to be more likely to think about the world in conspiratorial ways, and less knowledgeable about basic scientific facts."
The power of tribalism
The team notes that this is more than a barrier to herd immunity. Individuals that score high on the AVSID scale are more likely to share misinformation about vaccines and disrupt important public health communications. The challenge of combating such trends, they note, is especially difficult when anti-vaxx identity is bound to the group.
Reaching the 14 percent of vaccine-hesitant individuals will prove easier than trying to convince the 8 percent of anti-vaxxers. As long as their identity is tied with the group, changing their minds will be nearly impossible.
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter. His most recent book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
A well-known psychology trick called the "rubber hand illusion" could be useful for treating patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- It is easy to trick your brain into believing that a rubber hand belongs to your body.
- OCD is a crippling condition afflicting 1 in 50 people.
- The "rubber hand illusion" could offer a novel strategy to treat this condition.
I feel anchored "here and now" in my body. But this sense of embodiment which we take for granted is an illusion created by the brain. In fact, in just five minutes, I can make you feel like a rubber hand is yours!
I simply ask you to place both your hands flat on a table in between a piece of cardboard serving as a "little wall." You can't see your real right hand. And left to the "cardboard screen" you see a rubber hand, which looks like your own. Now, when you look down on the table you see two hands in front of you. But only one is yours — that is, the left one. Sitting across from you, I stroke the fake hand and the hidden right hand in perfect synchrony with a paintbrush. Astonishingly, after just a few minutes you'll most likely feel touch sensations arising from the rubber hand as if it were yours!
This compelling illusion illustrates the fragility of the sense of self and how your brain creates this feeling based on statistical correlations. It's extremely unlikely for such stroking seen on the rubber hand and felt on the hidden real right hand to occur by random chance. So, your brain concludes, however illogical, that the rubber hand is yours. This famous psychology trick — the "rubber hand illusion" — has been known for decades, but no one had examined how it could be used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) until my colleagues and I hit upon a novel technique: "multisensory stimulation therapy."
Treating OCD with a rubber hand
OCD is a crippling condition afflicting 1 in 50 people. A common type of OCD involves repetitive handwashing sometimes for hours until they bleed. These patients are petrified of trivial things like touching a garbage bin. Unsurprisingly, OCD patients suffer immensely. Yet there are few treatment options for them.
The most widely used "talking therapy" — dubbed "exposure and response prevention" — entails instructing patients to touch things they consider "disgusting" like a toilet seat and not washing their hands afterward. The aim is to make them feel anxious initially but then showing that nothing horrible occurs when they refrain from handwashing. However, a substantial limitation of this therapy is that patients fear touching things they consider contaminated. As many as 25 percent of patients outright refuse this treatment and 20 percent drop out before completion. But what if a rubber hand were to touch the disgusting objects instead — I thought to myself — one that feels like the patient's hand? Then one could create a less fear-provoking yet realistic therapy for OCD.
To show if this could work, V.S. Ramachandran, D. Krishnakumar, and I explored if healthy volunteers (without OCD) would experience disgust if we were to contaminate the fake hand during the aforementioned rubber hand illusion. So, we first induced the illusion, and after a few minutes, we put disgusting things like fake feces on the rubber hand. Curiously, participants experienced disgust, as if the sensation was emanating from the fake hand. In other words, when they felt like the fake hand was theirs, they were grossed out by what it was touching. These findings were later replicated in a large study from Japan, suggesting that these results are reliable even across cultures.
Therefore, my colleagues at Harvard and I (in collaboration with McLean Hospital and V.S. Ramachandran) later tested this trick in OCD patients and found the same result: that is, after stroking the rubber hand for 10 minutes, OCD patients displayed disgust reactions, just as if their real hand had been contaminated.
These results are striking because they show that OCD patients can experience contamination feelings, even from a rubber hand. Such contamination feelings are, as noted above, the basis for treating OCD. Over time, by repeating this rubber hand trick, patients should build up disgust tolerance — just like standard OCD therapy — and this could therefore represent a new way of treating the disorder that keeps so many souls hostage.
OCD is a strange disorder that blurs the boundary between mind and body, reality and illusion. It may just be that one has to trick the brain to tackle OCD, combating one illusion with another.
Dr. Baland S. Jalal is a researcher at Harvard University, Department of Psychology and visiting researcher at Cambridge University, Department of Psychiatry. He obtained his PhD at Cambridge University in the School of Clinical Medicine (Trinity College Cambridge) and was a Fellow at Harvard University (2016, 2018). He is a close collaborator and co-author on ten papers with the renowned neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran (2011 TIME magazine 100 most influential people in the world).
Science has not yet reached a consensus on the nature of consciousness.
It's that intimate sense of personal awareness we carry around with us, and the accompanying feeling of ownership and control over our thoughts, emotions and memories.
Beliefs about consciousness can be roughly divided into two camps. There are those who believe consciousness is like a ghost in the machinery of our brains, meriting special attention and study in its own right. And there are those, like us, who challenge this, pointing out that what we call consciousness is just another output generated backstage by our efficient neural machinery.
Over the past 30 years, neuroscientific research has been gradually moving away from the first camp. Using research from cognitive neuropsychology and hypnosis, our recent paper argues in favour of the latter position, even though this seems to undermine the compelling sense of authorship we have over our consciousness.
And we argue this isn't simply a topic of mere academic interest. Giving up on the ghost of consciousness to focus scientific endeavour on the machinery of our brains could be an essential step we need to take to better understand the human mind.
Is consciousness special?
Our experience of consciousness places us firmly in the driver's seat, with a sense that we're in control of our psychological world. But seen from an objective perspective, it's not at all clear that this is how consciousness functions, and there's still much debate about the fundamental nature of consciousness itself.
One reason for this is that many of us, including scientists, have adopted a dualist position on the nature of consciousness. Dualism is a philosophical view that draws a distinction between the mind and the body. Even though consciousness is generated by the brain – a part of the body – dualism claims that the mind is distinct from our physical features, and that consciousness cannot be understood through the study of the physical brain alone.
MIT's Alex Byrne explains the philosophical underpinnings of the dualist position.
It's easy to see why we believe this to be the case. While every other process in the human body ticks and pulses away without our oversight, there is something uniquely transcendental about our experience of consciousness. It's no surprise that we've treated consciousness as something special, distinct from the automatic systems that keep us breathing and digesting.
But a growing body of evidence from the field of cognitive neuroscience – which studies the biological processes underpinning cognition – challenges this view. Such studies draw attention to the fact that many psychological functions are generated and carried out entirely outside of our subjective awareness, by a range of fast, efficient non-conscious brain systems.
Consider, for example, how effortlessly we regain consciousness each morning after losing it the night before, or how, with no deliberate effort, we instantly recognise and understand shapes, colours, patterns and faces we encounter.
Consider that we don't actually experience how our perceptions are created, how our thoughts and sentences are produced, how we recall our memories or how we control our muscles to walk and our tongues to talk. Simply put, we don't generate or control our thoughts, feelings or actions – we just seem to become aware of them.
The way we simply become aware of thoughts, feelings and the world around us suggests that our consciousness is generated and controlled backstage, by brain systems that we remain unaware of.
Our recent paper argues that consciousness involves no separate independent psychological process distinct from the brain itself, just as there's no additional function to digestion that exists separately from the physical workings of the gut.
While it's clear that both the experience and content of consciousness are real, we argue that, from a science explanation, they are epiphenomenal: secondary phenomena based on the machinations of the physical brain itself. In other words, our subjective experience of consciousness is real, but the functions of control and ownership we attribute to that experience are not.
Future study of the brain
Our position is neither obvious nor intuitive. But we contend that continuing to place consciousness in the driver's seat, above and beyond the physical workings of the brain, and attributing cognitive functions to it, risks confusion and delaying a better understanding of human psychology and behaviour.
To better align psychology with the rest of the natural sciences, and to be consistent with how we understand and study processes like digestion and respiration, we favour a perspective change. We should redirect our efforts to studying the non-conscious brain, and not the functions previously attributed to consciousness.
This doesn't of course exclude psychological investigation into the nature, origins and distribution of the belief in consciousness. But it does mean refocusing academic efforts on what happens beneath our awareness – where we argue the real neuro-psychological processes take place.
Our proposal feels personally and emotionally unsatisfying, but we believe it provides a future framework for the investigation of the human mind – one that looks at the brain's physical machinery rather than the ghost that we've traditionally called consciousness.
This discovery could lead to better treatments for PTSD, borderline personality disorder, and epilepsy.
This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.
Feeling centered and in control of your body is a part of being human that we take for granted in our daily lives. But for millions of people suffering from post-traumatic stress, epilepsy, or another neuropsychiatric condition, this sense of self can slip out their hands in moments of "dissociation."
These dissociated states, which are often described as out-of-body experiences, are not inherently harmful in themselves, but they can be extremely disorienting and affect a person's quality of life. And even stranger than these moments is that scientists do not have a good understanding of how or why these states occur.
But new research published this September in the journal Nature may have just gotten closer to figuring it out than ever before — using mice, a human, and some advanced brain-scanning technology. This new knowledge could bring us closer to targeted treatments for PTSD and epilepsy.
The "God Helmet" Can Give You Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experiences www.youtube.com
Starting With What We Know
While scientists did not know exactly what in the brain causes dissociative states, they did know that certain drugs, like ketamine, could also induce these states. So, to start, the researchers wanted to look into the brains of mice to see what was happening when ketamine sent them into the mouse-equivalent of a dissociative state.
To determine whether ketamine was in fact eliciting a unique brain state, researchers gave the mice a sampling of different sedative or hallucinogenic drugs, including two other drugs like ketamine known to cause dissociation.
The brain activity of these drugged mice showed electric oscillations in a part of the brain called the retrosplenial cortex — an area of the brain responsible for memory and navigation. Importantly these oscillations did not occur in response to other types of drugs, like LSD.
On a closer look, the researchers saw that these low-frequency oscillations were restricted to just a small part of the retrosplenial cortex. For a drug like ketamine, which causes activity across a wide swath of the brain, it was unexpected to see activity like this in such a concentrated area.
A Stimulating Time
To determine if these specific brain patterns and the dissociative states were actually connected, the researchers tried to elicit this response in the mice without ketamine, using neural stimulation. (Since mice can't actually express to scientists whether they're experiencing a dissociative state, the researchers went off their responses to physical indicators, like feeling their paws touch a hot plate but not licking them to cool down, instead.)
In these undrugged mice, scientists modified two proteins in the retrosplenial cortex to be sensitive to light and exposed them to alternating blue and yellow light as stimulation. When exposed to these lights, the mice displayed the same blunted responses to stimuli as they had when under the ketamine-induced state.
But what does this mean for humans? In a patient with pre-existing electrode implants in their brain, the research team stimulated an analogous part of the human brain and found they were able to reliably stimulate a dissociative state.
In addition to being an exciting discovery in itself, the researchers are also hopeful that further exploration of dissociative experiences in humans could lead to new targeted treatments for disorders that cause them, including PTSD, borderline personality disorder, and epilepsy.
Less tangible — but just as interesting — the study's senior author, Karl Deisseroth, said that this could help scientists better understand what chemical reactions in our brain create our sense of self.
"This study has identified brain circuitry that plays a role in a well-defined subjective experience," Deisseroth, a professor of bioengineering and psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, said. "Beyond its potential medical implications, it gets at the question, 'What is the self?' That's a big one in law and literature, and important even for our own introspections."
Anger and silence are the two worst reactions.
- A new study conducted various experiments to explore the relationship between anger and judgments of guilt.
- The results suggest that when an accused person becomes angry, perceivers are more likely to view that person as guilty, even though the accused might be innocent.
- Paradoxically, the study also found that people who are falsely accused generally become angrier than people who are rightfully accused.
Imagine your neighbor accuses you of stealing something. You didn't. But your neighbor doesn't believe you. He continues to accuse you. As he does, other neighbors come over and start watching the confrontation unfold.
How would you react to being falsely accused? Maybe you'd be angry. But even though your anger would be justifiable, it would also likely increase the odds that your neighbors would think you're guilty.
That's the key takeaway of new research published in Psychological Science called "Anger Damns the Innocent." The findings are paradoxical: Being angry tends to make the accused come off as guilty, but their anger is usually a sign that they're innocent.
Why is that the case? The study noted that we look to others' emotions to understand social situations. That's particularly true when deciding whether we should trust someone.
For example, past research shows that people use trustworthiness to make judgments about whether someone is guilty. What's more, studies have also found that anger can make people seem less trustworthy. With these two findings in mind, the researchers proposed:
"...that when perceivers are alerted to a suspect's anger, perceivers are apt to find the suspect untrustworthy, prompting a judgment of guilt. Perceivers may even interpret a suspect's displayed anger as an inauthentic attempt to look innocent by faking moral indignation. This would further explain why perceivers deem an angry suspect guilty via perceptions of (in)authenticity."
If falsely accused, stay calm…but not quiet
Across six studies, the researchers explored how laypeople and experts make guilt judgments when the accused person is angry. In one set of studies, participants watched clips of people accused of minor crimes pleading their case on a courtroom TV show called Judge Faith. The results showed that participants were more likely to rate angry defendants as guilty.
In another study, participants read about a fictitious person named Andrew Smith who was accused of committing an armed robbery. The study included four versions of Smith's reaction to the accusations during his hypothetical testimony: angry, calm, silent, and irritated. For the silent condition, the participants read that Smith had invoked the Fifth Amendment. The other conditions included excerpts like:
- Calm: "I really can't believe I'm being accused of this crime."
- Irritated: "I'm irritated that I'm being accused of this crime."
- Angry: "I'm so fucking OUTRAGED that I'm being accused of this crime!"
The participants rated Smith most guilty when he was silent. Beyond that, being angry made Smith come off as most guilty, while being irritated made him seem guiltier than being calm.
Angry mandundanim via Adobe Stock
In a similar experiment, participants read one of two fictitious scenarios involving a man named Nathan. In both, he had been reasonably accused, but not necessarily guilty, of either cheating on his girlfriend or stealing money from his employer.
The participants were randomized to read either an angry or calm reaction. The angry condition was: "Nathan raises his voice and angrily denies responsibility, yelling, 'I am so pissed off that you think I would do this!'" The calm: "Nathan calmly denies responsibility, stating, 'I really can't believe you think I would do this.'" Again, the participants rated the angry response as guiltier.
Is it just laypeople who view anger as a sign of guilt? To test that idea, the researchers conducted a study similar to the previous one, but its participants were professionals who regularly have to make consequential judgments of others' guilt, such as fraud investigators and auditors.
They too rated the angry response as guiltier. Interestingly, the experts also considered remaining silent to be an indicator of guilt.
The falsely accused are angrier
When someone reacts angrily to an accusation, others generally see that person as guilty. But is anger really a sign of guilt?
To test that question, the researchers asked another set of participants to complete one of two tasks, both of which involved editing text. One task was simple, the other difficult. All participants were told they would be paid to complete the task.
After the participants finished the task, the researchers accused them of doing it incorrectly, and therefore they wouldn't receive a bonus payment. This represented a false accusation for the participants who completed the simple task, most of whom had done it correctly. Meanwhile, the participants assigned to the difficult task generally made errors, so the accusations were mostly accurate.
Afterward, the researchers asked both groups how angry they felt. The results showed that those who were falsely accused reported significantly higher feelings of anger than those who were rightfully accused.
Humans are terrible lie detectors
Overall, the results highlight how most people simply aren't good lie detectors. It's a deficit that's likely contributing not only to interpersonal conflicts but also false criminal convictions.
The researchers said their findings add important insights to the field of deceit detection, showing that anger is not a sign of guilt but of innocence.
"This is particularly important because most research on emotional cues of deception finds little to no association between other discrete emotions and guilt," the researchers wrote. "While scholarship on the psychology of anger posits that the social information it portrays is that there is someone else to blame, we find that anger in this context (mis)portrays the opposite to others: guilt."
The study concludes: "There are many reasons to be angry when accused of wrongdoing, but perhaps none as strong as the belief that one has been falsely accused."