How Do We Motivate Each Other to Get the Newest COVID-19 Booster?



By Tom Linder
Arlen Moller

On the heels of the United States Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of an updated COVID-19 vaccine on September 11, Americans from coast to coast are now asking themselves, “Should I get the new booster?”

The FDA’s position is clear: it encourages everyone who is eligible to get the new vaccine.

It’s not such a clear-cut decision for everyone, though, and it is complicated by the eagerness of some to make political partisanship—rather than vaccine safety—the focus, according to Illinois Tech Associate Professor of Psychology Arlen Moller.  

“There are influential voices in our culture who’ve chosen to feed polarization or tribalism as a political strategy, and their contributions to vaccine discussions often include disinformation intended to stoke outrage,” says Moller, an expert on theories of human motivation. “One foundational strategy that I think could be useful involves encouraging folks to scrutinize the messenger, i.e., the sources of information they’re exposed to related to the latest COVID-19 booster and its relative risks and benefits. Ask yourself, is this person an expert on vaccine safety?”

Actively seeking out credible sources of information is one strategy Moller believes could be effective in overcoming vaccine hesitancy. 

“Evidence of credibility—a combination of both expertise and trustworthiness—increases receptivity, but credibility alone sometimes isn’t enough,” says Moller. “From a psychological standpoint, we know that people are also most influenced by information they get from sources they consider ‘people like me’—folks with shared social identities, including peers (credible or not).” 

As a result, the best public health campaigns promote high quality, evidence-based advice and carefully select different spokespersons to communicate with different audiences.