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Review 1: "Religious Identity Cues Increase Vaccination Intentions and Trust in Medical Experts among American Christians"

Published onApr 27, 2022
Review 1: "Religious Identity Cues Increase Vaccination Intentions and Trust in Medical Experts among American Christians"
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key-enterThis Pub is a Review of
Religious Identity Cues Increase Vaccination Intentions and Trust in Medical Experts among American Christians

Containing the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. requires mobilizing a large majority of the mass public to vaccinate, but many Americans are hesitant or opposed to vaccination. A significant predictor of vaccine attitudes in the U.S. is religiosity, with more religious individuals expressing more distrust in science and being less likely to get vaccinated. Here, we test whether explicit cues of common religious identity can help medical experts build trust and increase vaccination intentions. In a pre-registered survey experiment conducted with a sample of unvaccinated American Christians (N=1,765), we presented participants with a vaccine endorsement from a prominent medical expert (NIH Director, Francis Collins) and a short essay about doctors’ and scientists’ endorsement of the vaccines. In the common religious identity condition, these materials also highlighted the religious identity of Collins and many medical experts. Unvaccinated Christians in the common identity condition expressed higher trust in medical experts, greater intentions to vaccinate, and greater intentions to promote vaccination to friends and family than those who did not see the common identity cue. These effects were moderated by religiosity, with the strongest effects observed among the most religious participants, and statistically mediated by heightened perceptions of shared values with the medical expert endorsing the vaccine. These findings demonstrate the efficacy of common identity cues for promoting vaccination in a vaccine-hesitant subpopulation. More generally, the results illustrate how trust in science can be built through the invocation of common group identities, even identities often assumed to be in tension with science.

RR:C19 Evidence Scale rating by reviewer:

  • Reliable. The main study claims are generally justified by its methods and data. The results and conclusions are likely to be similar to the hypothetical ideal study. There are some minor caveats or limitations, but they would/do not change the major claims of the study. The study provides sufficient strength of evidence on its own that its main claims should be considered actionable, with some room for future revision.



This manuscript presents a well-designed and well-executed study to experimentally assess whether priming a shared identity among Christians using Francis Collins’ own religious identity led them to state more trust in medical experts and greater intent to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. While the sample-quality is maybe a bit weaker and non-probable in nature, that is less of a concern here where the focus is really on the treatment effects.

If I were to offer suggestions, I might like to see a figure showing the interaction effect with religiosity rather than have it discussed in the text. I might also suggest a bit more discussion on the substantive effect size. The note to Figure 2 says that the estimates are on a 100-point scale, which makes the effects seem fairly small if the 0.2-3.0 range.

Overall, though, this is a clean study that presents interesting and valuable findings, both specific to the COVID-19 pandemic and more broadly when it comes to identity-priming.

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