In an experimental study, we described potential flu victims who would suffer from the decision of others to not vaccinate to 3952 Internet participants across eight countries. We measured sympathy, general prosociality, and vaccination intentions. The study included two identifiable victim conditions (one with an elderly victim and another with a young victim), an unidentified victim condition, and a no message condition.
Americans do not vaccinate nearly enough against Influenza (flu) infection, despite severe health and economic burden of influenza. Younger people are disproportionately responsible for transmission, but do not suffer severely from the flu. Thus, to achieve herd immunity, prosocial motivation needs to be a partial driver of vaccination decisions. Past research has not established the causal role of prosociality in flu vaccination, and the current research evaluates such causal relationship by experimentally eliciting prosociality through messages about flu victims.
We found that any of the three messages increased flu vaccination intentions. Moreover, this effect was mediated by enhanced prosocial motives, and was stronger among people who were historical non-vaccinators. In addition, younger victim elicited greater sympathy, and describing identifiable victims increased general sympathy and prosocial motives.
These findings provide direct experimental evidence on the causal role of prosocial motives in flu vaccination, by showing that people can be prompted to vaccinate for the sake of benefiting others.