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13 March 2024

‘Health’ is better than ‘no illness’ in vaccination communication

People are expected to make informed vaccination decisions. This study in Collabra: Psychology addresses the question whether the processing of vaccination information is biased, meaning that it is more difficult to remember and use certain information over other information, even though both are important. The findings show that this is indeed the case. People consider occurrences (reports of health and illness) more important than non-occurrences (reports of no health and no illness) when evaluating vaccinations.

Take aways

  • The feature positive effect biases the processing and recollection of vaccination information.
  • People have more trouble remembering nonoccurring vaccination outcomes and perceive these as less important in reaching a judgment about vaccination compared to occurring vaccination outcomes. 
  • Evidence-based vaccination information is communicated most effectively in terms of present, rather than absent, outcomes.

Study information

  • Who?

    350 native English-speaking adults (age range: 19-80 years; mean age: 38.5 years old; 54,6% female, 44.0% male,1.4% nonbinary)

  • Where?


  • How?

    Participants 1) read a fictional news article about the blue virus, an infectious disease for which a vaccine has been discovered, 2) read16 fictitious news headlines about the vaccine’s consequences that included either an occurrence or a nonoccurrence, and 3) indicated which headlines they remembered and rated each headline on perceived importance for evaluating the vaccine.

Facts and findings

  • People were better at recalling headlines with occurring consequences than headlines with the same, but nonoccurring, consequences.
  • People reported that they considered the headlines with present consequences were more important in evaluating the vaccine than the headlines with absent consequences.  
  • There was no clear difference in the amount of time it took people to read news headlines with occurring or nonoccuring consequences.