Changing your mind about something as important as vaccination is not a sign of weakness – being open to new information is the smart way to make choices

Culturally, this is a time when people are held in high regard when they stick to their beliefs and negatively labeled as “flip-flops” or “wishy-washy” when they change what they think.

While the courage of convictions can be a plus in situations where people are fighting for justice, sticking to beliefs in a dynamic world is short-sighted and dangerous, as new evidence can and should be considered. . Fast-paced environments are uncomfortable for people because you cannot effectively use experience to guide choices about the future.

Think about the COVID-19 pandemic. All aspects of the pandemic response have evolved over time, as knowledge about the disease, its prevention and treatment has changed dramatically since the onset of the coronavirus in early 2020.

The problem is that many opponents of masking and vaccination have made bold public statements on social media, broadcasting positions as if they will never get the COVID-19 vaccine. Once someone takes a strong stand like this, it can be difficult to make a change. Like a psychology researcher who focuses on decision makingI know there are powerful psychological and social forces that promote consistency of belief and action. Early engagements can be difficult to dislodge, although sometimes outside forces can help.

Change course once you have overtaken

Social psychologists know that, on the one hand, people are motivated to maintain consistency through their beliefs. Because people want their web of beliefs to be consistent, they tend to give a lot of weight to beliefs that are consistent with their overall world view and neglect those that are contradictory. As a result, people will continue to hold on to a set of beliefs even in the face of growing evidence that they should revise what they think.

Psychologists describe this subconscious strategy as a way for people to minimize any cognitive dissonance they feel – when things don’t add up it can be disturbing, so to avoid those uncomfortable feelings they ignore what is wrong. well to their existing beliefs. as a means of maintaining balance.

In the context of COVID-19, for example, a person predisposed to dislike the vaccine will give little weight to the new evidence of the vaccine’s effectiveness, as that evidence contradicts their current world view.

Eventually, however, enough counter-evidence can lead to what psychologists call a coherence shift, in which people may come to believe their original point of view was wrong. Moreover social forces like the desire to appear cohesive or to show solidarity with a community can still cause people to resist changing their beliefs and behavior.

Are you keeping your tried and true order at your favorite restaurant or exploring the menu for something new?
Vladimir Vladimirov / E + via Getty Images

Indeed, there is considerable research on the trade-off between what psychologists call exploitation and exploration in decision-making. Exploitation refers to the tendency of people to choose the option that has been the best in the past. As a simple example, exploitation would be to choose your usual favorite food from a restaurant where you often order take out.

Exploration describes the selection of options that were not optimal in the past but may now be better than the previous best choices. In the restaurant scenario, exploring is choosing a new dish or dish that you tried in the past and didn’t like as much as your old dish. Exploration gives you information about options other than your current favorite.

When environments change a lot, exploration is important. Good decision makers will often forgo the best-known option in order to determine if other options are currently better. If your favorite restaurant is constantly recruiting new cooks and changing the menu, then exploration is probably a good strategy. The tendency for consistency that people display – especially in situations where they have expressed a strong preference – is more detrimental in changing environments. The COVID-19 pandemic is one example.

In these situations, helping people to change their behavior requires reducing their need to feel obligated to act in accordance with the attitudes they have expressed. This is where the outside forces come in.

When a warrant goes against your position

For example, think of two people: Al and Barb. Both are opposed to the COVID-19 vaccination and have various reasons for it – such as being wary of science and worrying about long-term safety. Both have also posted their opposition to the vaccination on their social media sites.

Al doesn’t know anyone who has fallen ill with COVID-19 and hasn’t really read many stories about the vaccine’s effectiveness, so he has a consistent set of beliefs against vaccination.

Barb has friends who have fallen ill and one of them has died from COVID-19. She read some of the news articles with data supporting immunization. Although this information is not enough to reverse her opinion, she hesitates.

Al and Barb are likely to have different reactions to the government mandate that employers with more than 100 employees must require their staff to be vaccinated or frequently tested.

vaccination clinic worker sitting at table near signs
A warrant will get a few vaccine laggards to get vaccinated.
Frédéric J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images

Al is strongly opposed to vaccination, so the tenure is balanced by everything else of his beliefs. He is likely to fight the warrant and make a public demonstration by refusing to be vaccinated.

Barb is in a different position. The vaccination mandate corresponds to some of his beliefs. While Barb may be uncomfortable getting the shot, she’s more likely to use the warrant as social cover to get the shot, blaming the warrant for her ultimate choice.

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For people who are reluctant to get vaccinated because they have conflicting knowledge and beliefs, vaccination mandates serve two purposes. First, the mandates provide another fact that can make their pro-vaccine beliefs more consistent than their anti-vaccine beliefs. Second, even for people who are still largely anti-vaccine, it allows them to get the shot while saving face by accusing the mandate of an action they are not as strongly opposed to as they appear to be. .

More generally, people are creatures of habit. You probably feel more comfortable doing what has worked for you in the past. The more you learn to pay attention to the magnitude of changes in the environment, the more you can work to push yourself to explore new options and change your beliefs and behavior based on new evidence.


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