Study shows how memes impact vaccine hesitancy

A study in the Journal "Computers in Human Behavior" showed that funny memes encouraged people to get vaccinated until COVID-19 vaccines were actually announced, and then the joking stopped and anti-vaxxers got deadly serious about scaring people.


Pro-vaccination messaging may be surprisingly effective when delivered through humorous internet memes, according to new findings published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. A series of studies revealed that exposure to sarcastic memes about anti-vaxxers increased UK residents' intention to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The researchers suggest that the humorous memes were able to bypass the typical defense processes of people who are vaccine-hesitant.

"Little is known about the extent to which memes can shift beliefs or intentions," Geniole told PsyPost. "Our studies provided some preliminary evidence that memes about vaccination — specifically, memes that were supportive of vaccination or unsupportive of antivaxxers — may increase the viewer's intentions to be vaccinated. In other words, our studies suggest that exposure to memes, under certain circumstances, may actually shift beliefs or intentions."

Interestingly, although the effect was robust, it appeared to weaken once the vaccine was nearing release. The first three studies were conducted between August and October 2020, prior to the announcement of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, while the next three studies took place in November 2020, following the announcement. When comparing the findings from the first three studies to the last three, the effect of exposure to the memes on vaccine intention was weaker after the vaccine was announced.