Kolina Koltai's Dissertation Proposal


Title: Human Values and Scientific Controversies: Studying Vaccine Attitudes on Social Networking Sites

Abstract: My dissertation explores the relationships among human values, vaccine attitudes, and use of social networking sites, specifically Facebook. There has been a growing trend of individuals deciding to adopt and propagate theories that go against the scientific mainstream. In the case of vaccines, although vaccines are backed up with decades of research demonstrating their efficacy and safety, many parents still decide not to vaccinate their children due to the perceived risks. Online content has become an integral part of how people make health and science-related decisions. Providing pro-vaccine content and information is insufficient in encouraging vaccine uptake. There is a gap in understanding the vaccine decision making process. The literature suggests that values have explanatory power relative to vaccine decision making. Based on this literature, I ran a small, pilot study interviewing 10 vaccine opposed individuals active in online social networks. Based on value-laden themes that I identified from the interviews, I developed a mixed method study to understand the vaccine opposed community’s values, vaccine attitudes, and use of social networking sites. First, I will distribute a survey to measure Facebook use, vaccine attitudes, and human values to individuals who are active in Facebook groups that promote vaccine opposed content. Second, I will conduct an interview/observation session following the contextual inquiry method. Participants will interact with vaccine content using their own Facebook account. Findings from this study will provide further insights into the relationships among social media use, values, and trust in the vaccine debate. In addition, results may be applicable to other scientific controversies, online misinformation, and the development of public health interventions.

Committee: Kenneth R. Fleischmann (Chair), Yan Zhang, Amelia Acker, and Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud (Communication Studies)


12:45pm to 2:45pm


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