COVID-19 Resource Center

COVID-19 Resource Center

Disclosures: Perlis reports receiving personal fees from Burrage Capital, Genomind, RID Ventures, Belle Artificial Intelligence and Takeda, and owning equity in Psy Therapeutics and Belle Artificial Intelligence. No other disclosures were reported.
January 26, 2022
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US adults with depression more likely to endorse misinformation about COVID-19 vaccine

Disclosures: Perlis reports receiving personal fees from Burrage Capital, Genomind, RID Ventures, Belle Artificial Intelligence and Takeda, and owning equity in Psy Therapeutics and Belle Artificial Intelligence. No other disclosures were reported.
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U.S. adults who display moderate or greater symptoms of depression are more likely to endorse misinformation related to the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a nationwide survey study published in JAMA Network Open.

“One of the notable things about depression is that it can cause people to see the world differently. That is, for some depressed people, the world appears as a particularly dark and dangerous place,” Roy H. Perlis, MD, MSc, associate chief of research in the department of psychiatry and director of the Center for Quantitative Health at Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a press release. “We wondered whether people seeing the world this way might also be more susceptible to believing misinformation about vaccines.”

infographic with Perlis quote
Infographic quote derived from: https://www.massgeneral.org/news/press-release/People-who-are-depressed-may-be-more-susceptible-to-misinformation-about-covid-19-vaccines.

Perlis and colleagues sought to determine if symptoms of depression are related to a willingness to believe vaccine misinformation, as there may be significant correlations between misinformation endorsement and hesitancy or resistance for the vaccine.

The study, an internet survey canvassing all 50 states and Washington, D.C., yielded responses from 15,464 U.S. adults 18 years and older and was conducted in two waves: April 2021 to May 2021 and then again from June 2021 to July 2021. Respondents’ symptoms of depression were self-reported through the Patient Health Questionnaire-9.

Participants were then asked to rate four statements deemed to be misinformative, offered across social media platforms in the spring of 2021, as either true or false. At the end of the survey, all respondents were told which statements were not true, to confirm the survey itself did not spread misinformation.

From the first wave, data showed 4,164 respondents (26.9%) reported moderate or greater depressive symptoms on the PHQ-9, with 2,964 (19.2%) endorsing at least one vaccine-related statement of misinformation. Participants who endorsed at least one misinformation statement were significantly less likely to be vaccinated, and significantly less likely to report a family member who is unvaccinated. Results additionally showed that within unvaccinated respondents, anyone who supported at least one misinformation statement was more likely to claim resistance to the vaccine.

Among the 2,809 respondents analyzed in the second wave, 499 (17.8%) were at least moderately depressed according to the PHQ-9 score in April and May, and 370 (13.2%) endorsed at least one misinformation statement. The presence of depression revealed in that survey held an association with a greater likelihood of endorsing additional misinformation when compared with the previous survey.

“To date, efforts to combat the impact of misinformation on public health predominantly emphasize reduction in supply,” Perlis and colleagues wrote. “In parallel, it may be possible to develop interventions targeting negativity bias that reduce demand, or at least modulate the capacity of misinformation to impact health decision-making.”

Reference:

Massachusetts General Hospital. People who are depressed may be more susceptible to misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines. https://www.massgeneral.org/news/press-release/People-who-are-depressed-may-be-more-susceptible-to-misinformation-about-covid-19-vaccines. Published Jan. 21, 2022. Accessed Jan. 26, 2022.