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Research requires an emotional context – look at MMR

The recent measles outbreak has clearly brought the MMR scare back to top of mind again for many. It has also prompted us to think about how – as researchers – we’re frequently asked to assess varying information sources in a very rational way: which sources are used, with what frequency, in what detail are they interrogated, etc.  And yes, it’s true that the issue of trust may well be overlaid on to this: which media or people do respondents believe have most credibility, and why.

However the MMR-related anxieties have demonstrated once again what we have always believed, that it can be equally important to explore the emotional dimension which operates when reacting to messaging, particularly on more sensitive topics. We need to understand the role of educational/social conditioning and also sheer gut instinct in driving human responses, and to recognise that this can weigh in just as heavily as apparently sound data or the perceived authority of the source in influencing attitudes and actions. Research must therefore not only uncover opinions on how communication is being delivered, but should also shed light on the mindset with which it is being received.

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