Willingness to vaccinate against COVID-19: Psychological mechanisms and ways to increase responsiveness

Project Details


The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of over 4 million people worldwide, and over 190 million people have been severely affected. In addition, the pandemic has had a powerful adverse effect on people’s lives in most countries. The vaccine against the coronavirus has dramatically reduced the number of infected people, saving the lives of millions. However, although the vaccine has been proved to be highly effective, and its safety profile is satisfactory, in most countries there is still a relatively large percentage of opposers, who endanger the entire population in their country as well as worldwide. Since COVID-19 continues to pose a threat to humans, it is essential to understand what causes this resistance and to find ways to increase vaccination rates. In the proposed research we rely on previous research on terror management theory and on the omission bias, as well as on insights from our own recent work on people's willingness to donate organs after death, to suggest psychological mechanisms that may explain people’s resistance to the vaccine, and to offer effective interventions to increase vaccination rate. We suggest two main research directions which have the potential to shed new light on these issues: First, we examine how different framings of the vaccine may affect people’s attitudes and decisions by focusing on saving lives (rather than on death); on reducing the risk to others (rather than to oneself); and by manipulations that make the decision to get vaccinated the default. Second, we propose to study individual differences in attitudes, beliefs and fears (e.g., the fear of personal death, religious beliefs, the belief in a just world and individual differences in thinking styles) that may distinguish between people who have already been vaccinated and those who refuse to do so. Understanding these differences has the potential to help in developing interventions—by using priming methods to enhance/mitigate relevant beliefs situationally and examine their influences on improving attitudes toward the vaccine and on increasing refusers’ willingness to vaccinate. The attitudes and behaviors that we examine include perceptions of the risk from COVID-19 and from the vaccine, willingness to vaccinate, willingness to have a 3rd vaccination if needed, and willingness to vaccinate one’s own children. This research proposal was written in full collaboration between Paul Slovic the American PI and Tehila Kogut, the Israeli partner. The studies' designs, analyses and writing will also be done in full cooperation, as we did in our previous joint projects. Most of the suggested studies will be run in both the US and Israel to test the generalizability of the findings and to detect differences that may stem from the different political systems in the two countries and from different religious approaches. The research is based on our recent collaboration in the context of organ donations which led to several joint publications.

Intellectual Merit: The proposed research intends to offer several insights into the psychology of people’s reactions to an ongoing threat and to the constant reminders of death during a worldwide pandemic. Its aim is to understand the mechanisms behind people's refusal (agreement) to vaccinate. We build upon terror management theory to suggest mechanisms that people may use to deal with the ongoing fear of death, including denying the threat and adherence to different beliefs that may help them feel less vulnerable. We plan to examine different framings and presentations that have the potential to reduce these defense mechanisms, improving attitudes toward the vaccine and willingness to vaccinate. In addition, our research will offer insights to several lines of research such as understanding of risk perceptions, and deeper understanding of individual differences in the belief in a just world and in tempting fate.

Broader Impacts: COVID-19 continues to pose a threat to humans in most countries. Scientists are now convinced that the only sure strategy for dealing with the virus is getting more people vaccinated. Moreover, unvaccinated people are vulnerable to large surges and new variants, thus putting the rest of the world at risk. Thus, finding way to improve attitudes toward the vaccine and to increase people’s willingness to vaccinate is of great importance. We suggest practical ways to increase willingness to vaccinate. Insights from our research would be relevant to other medical decisions, such as willingness to take routine tests, or to get other vaccinations.

Effective start/end date1/01/21 → …


  • United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF)


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