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Psychologist explains factors contributing to strong emotional response to masks, vaccines

Published: Sep. 10, 2021 at 10:55 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - The building opposition to President Biden’s vaccination order comes as school boards and elected officials see pushback to mask requirements at the local level. There has been vocal resistance at public meetings regarding COVID-19 measures, and we’re hearing more after the president’s announcement of his administration’s vaccine plan.

“It has not been long enough to say that the vaccine is taking care of everyone, (or that) it’s making everyone safe, so I don’t think there should e a mandate from our government telling us that we have to take shots,” said Ruth Binford, voicing opposition to Biden’s vaccination order.

In psychology, this has a term, “reactance.”

“Reactance is an emotional reaction we have in response to either people actually limiting our freedoms or threats to our freedoms, and it’s kind of a pushback against that,” Wichita State University Psychology Professor Dr. Robert Zettle explained.

He points to this as one of the main reasons some parents express so much resistance when it comes to COVID-19 measures.

“People are really digging in their heels because if it’s more and more pressures being brought to bear, you have more and more coverage of the kind of resistance where people are protesting,” he said. “You have more conspiracy theories being generated to support that behavior.”

Dr. Zettle said social media fuels conspiracy theories that play a part in all of this, but advised that pushing back against these views often isn’t the way to change these beliefs.

“Approach it more, not in terms of my trying to persuade you to change your behavior but help me understand what your reservations are about changing your behavior” he said.

Dr. Zettle said acknowledging those differing viewpoints can serve as a starting point for a deeper conversation.

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