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Research Snapshot: Vanderbilt psychology research shows people more willing to take COVID-19 vaccine to benefit society

The idea
Jennifer Trueblood
Jennifer Trueblood

In an effort to understand Americans’ thought processes around whether to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Jennifer Trueblood, associate professor of psychology, and University of Chicago Booth School of Business researchers conducted studies to explore the relationship between risk preferences and effective messaging. An experiment and a nationally representative survey showed that risk-averse people, who are less likely to get the vaccine, become more willing and likely to get a vaccine when messages highlight benefits to the community, like herd immunity. By contrast, when messages focus on the effectiveness of the vaccine, individuals’ risk preferences are more likely to influence their choice.

Why it matters

These findings can help policymakers decide how they communicate with the public about COVID-19 vaccines. Messages touting broader social benefits may be more effective than those stressing vaccine awareness and accessibility. Federal and state agencies, local governments and community organizations would be well served by coordinating and focusing their messages to speed vaccination efforts.

What’s next

Future research aims to understand the link between risk preferences and vaccine hesitancy in other disease-fighting campaigns, as with the flu vaccine. Future studies will continue to develop and test messaging aimed at increasing vaccine take-up.


This work was supported by National Science Foundation grant 1846764, True North Communications Inc. Fund, the Fama-Miller Center and the Initiative on Global Markets at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

 Go deeper

The article “The Role of Risk Preferences in Responses to Messaging About COVID-19 Vaccine Take-Up” was published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science on March 11.