And the Internet Went Wild: Social Psychological and Social Conflict Functions of the Vaccine Debate

Student Author(s)

Ethan Gibbons

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Pamela Koch

Document Type


Event Date



The introduction of vaccines has been hailed by the medical field as one of the biggest public health victories of human history. Despite greatly declining rates of vaccine-preventable diseases, there is a growing movement against vaccinations. A growing number of parents are choosing to forego vaccines for their children altogether or to determine their own schedule of vaccines in lieu of what is recommended. This issue has sparked an incredible amount of polarization and conflict. The Internet has become a battleground for this conflict. Parenting forums have become places for both pro and anti-vaccine individuals to go to receive support as well as to refute the ideas of the other. The present research uses data collected from online vaccinations debate forums to find evidence of Coser’s Theory and several social psychological phenomena including Social Identity Theory, confirmation bias, the Dunning-Kruger Effect, and collective hysteria. This research shows the transference of these theories into the online world and may be used in the future to find solutions to the current conflict.


This research was sponsored by support from a Jaconb E. Nyenhuis Student/Faculty Collaborative Research Grant.

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