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« MAPKIA! extra credit question | Main | Why cultural predispositions matter & how to measure them: a fragment ... »

MAPKIA! episode 2: what do alpha, beta, gamma & delta think about childhood vaccine risks? And where's the tea party?!

Okay everybody!

Time for another episode of ...:"Make a prediction, know it all!," or "MAPKIA!"!

I'm sure all 14 billion readers of this blog (a slight exaggeration; but one day there were 25,000 -- that was a 200 sigma event! I'm sure you can guess which post I'm talking about) remember the rules but here they are for any newcomers:

I, the host, will identify an empirical question -- or perhaps a set of related questions -- that can be answered with CCP data.  Then, you, the players, will make predictions and explain the basis for them.  The answer will then be posted the next day.  The first contestant who makes the right prediction will win a really cool CCP prize (like maybe this or possibly something other equally cool thing), so long as the prediction rests on a cogent theoretical foundation.  (Cogency will be judged, of course, by a panel of experts.)  

Today's question builds on yesterday's (or whenever it was) on measuring cultural predispositions. In it, I discussed an "interpretive communities" (IC) alternative to the conventional "cultural cognition worldview" (CCW) scales.

The CCW scales use attitudinal items as indicators of latent moral orientations or outlooks thought to be associated with one or another of the affinity groups through which ordinary members of the public come to know what's known to science.  Those outlooks are then used to test hypotheses about who believes what and why about disputed risks and other contested facts relevant to individual or collective decisionmaking.

Well, in the IC alternative, perceptions of risk are used as indicators of latent risk-perception dispositions. These dispositions are posited to be associated with those same affinity groups.  One can then use measures formed in psychometrically valid ways from these risk-perception indicators to test hypotheses, etc.

Working with a large, nationally representative sample I used factor analysis to extract two orthogonal latent dispositions, which I labeled "public safety" and "social deviancy."  I then divided the sample into four risk-disposition interpretive communities or ICs--IC-α (“high public-safety” concern, “low social-deviancy”);  IC-β (“high public-safety,” “high social-deviancy); IC-γ (“low public-safety,” “low public-safety”); and IC-δ (“low public-safety,” “high social-deviancy”).  

I also identified various of the characteristics -- demographic, political, cultural-- of the four IC groups.  I'll even toss in other, attitudinal one now: belief/disbelief in evolution:

The characteristics, btw, are identified in a purely descriptive fashion. They aren't parameters in a model used to identify members of the groups (although I'm sure one could fit such a model to the groups once identified with reference to their risk preferences with Latent Class Modeling) or the strength of the dispositions the intersection of which creates the the underlying grid with which the distinctive risk-perception profiles of the groups can be discerned.

What's this sort of IC scheme good for?  As I mentioned last time, I think it is of exceedingly limited value in helping to make sense of variance in the very risk perceptions used to identify the continuous risk-perception dispositions or membership in the various IC groups. Any model in which group membership or variance in the dispositions used to identify them is used to "explain" or "predict" variance in the indicator risk perceptions used to define the groups or dispositions would be circular!

That's the main advantage of the CCW scales: the attitudinal indicators (e.g., "The government should do more to advance society's goals, even if that means limiting the freedom and choices of individuals"; "Society as a whole has become too soft and feminine") used to form the scales are analytically independent, conceptually remote from the risk perceptions or factual beliefs (the earth is/isn't heating up; concealed carry laws increase/decrease homicide rates) that the scales are used to explain.  

But I think the IC scheme can make a very useful contribution in a couple of circumstances.

One is when one is trying to test for and understand the structure of public attitudes on a perception of risk variance in which is uncertain or contested.  By seeing whether that risk perception generates any variance at all and among which IC groups or along which IC dimensions, if any, one can improve one's understanding of public opinion toward it.

Consider "fracking."  Not surprisingly, research suggests the public has little familiarity with this technology.

Yet it is clear that risk perceptions toward it already load very highly on the "public safety" dimension! Obviously, the issue is ripe for conflict because of how little information members of the public actually need to assimilate it to the "bundle" of risks positions coherence in which define that latent risk predisposition. As a result, they're also likely never to acquire much reliable information--those on both sides are likely just to fit all manner of evidence on fracking to what they are predisposed to believe, as they do on issues like climate change and gun control.

The other thing IC is useful for is to make sense of individual characteristics one is unsure are indicators of the sorts of group affinities that ultimately generate the coherence reflected in these dispositions.  One can see, descriptively, where the characteristic in question "fits" on the grid, form hypotheses about whether it is genuinely of consequence in the formation of the relevant dispositions and which ones, and then test those hypotheses by seeing if the characteristics in question can be used to improve the more fundamental class of latent risk-predisposition measures that avoid the circularity of using their own risk perceptions as indicators.

Hence, today's MAPKIA questions:

(1) How do IC-αs, IC-βs, IC-γs and IC-δs feel about the risks of childhood vaccinations? Which risk-perception dimension--public-safety or social-deviancy--captures variation in perception of that risk?  (2) Hey--where is the Tea Party?!  Are its members IC-αs, IC-βs, IC-γs, or IC-δs?!

The answer will be posted "tomorrow"!


Mark, get set ... GO!

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Reader Comments (6)

I'm having trouble finding individualistic-heirarchical on the graph.

December 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFrankL


the white hierarchical individualistic males are definitely located in γ. But there are also HIs in δ

But yes, this 2x2 is not just reproduction of the CC 2x2. What do you make of that?

December 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

Ok, I'll play today since I have some free time.. I would call these guesses more than hypotheses, but hey, why not. I’ll go out of order on your questions:

1-b) Which risk-perception dimension--public-safety or social-deviancy--captures variation in perception of that risk?

Well, my first thought in reply to this question is that both risk perception dimensions would show variability.. but I'm not sure if this is because I really think that's the case, or if it's just because both these themes are present in the larger dialogue about vaccination so it seems like it should be the case.

People make arguments for the public good, herd immunity, and so on, which I think would appeal more to those with a high concern for public safety. Maybe that's true for some, but not others. However, I think regardless of the messaging, many folks who actually decide to forgo or delay childhood vaccination (who see vaccination itself as the risk) are doing it because their concern for their own child comes first (self over the general public) and they can't care that much about public safety if they are willingly compromising it for their own (perceived) personal/individual gain, right? I also wonder if perhaps people with high concern for public safety risks see the vaccination debate as a big deal and they overestimate the polarization/controversy? (But that's not your question I suppose). Meanwhile, people with lower concern about public safety risk would be more likely to be ok with not vaccinating- (but whether this manifests as a general attitude against vaccination, well...)

The social deviance dimension is interesting as well- those who think social deviance is a high risk are probably more likely to think vaccination is important, if those who don't vaccinate are the deviants, unless they hold a stronger belief about vaccination being the tool of big pharma or etc... in which case they shift their views of big pharma and doctors as the social deviants and their perception of not vaccinating is now a lesser social deviance risk?

Anyway I think I'm just muddying everything up, so my short (and probably incorrect) guess would be that we could see the variation on both dimensions… back where I started. Ugh.

1-a) "How do IC-αs, IC-βs, IC-γs and IC-δs feel about the risks of childhood vaccinations?"

It’s tough for me to work through this question without slipping into the opposite question of how they feel about the risks of not vaccinating. But oh well:

Since alphas and betas both feel public safety risks are high risks, they should want to make sure everyone vaccinates (if they accept idea that vaccination is a public safety concern and adequately understand the concept of herd immunity), so they may decide the risk of NOT vaccinating is the largest risk here (and one to be avoided) and hence should be relatively more in favour of vaccination than the gammas and deltas.

Meanwhile, the betas and deltas both feel social deviance is a big risk so they may be relatively more in favor of vaccination and view those who don’t vaccinate as deviant (maybe?), so following that logic, the betas have both dimensions working for them in making vaccination a positive and probably view it as very low risk because the alternatives (threats to public safety and social deviant’s breaking the rules) are undesirable. The opposite quadrant, the gammas, don’t see public safety risks as a big deal, (so they probably don’t care too much about whether their kid not being vaccinated might make a bunch of other kids sick) and they don’t think social deviance is a big deal (so they don’t have a problem with their kids or others’ kids) so they feel fine breaking the rules and not vaccinating.

Now, synthesizing this logic would basically point to the betas being most in favor of vaccination (and maybe then viewing it as less of a risk) and the alphas and deltas somewhere in between, (alphas maybe resonate with the herd immunity/public safety arguments while deltas more with the we're-counting-on-everyone social deviance angle), and gammas being most likely to think not vaccinating isn’t a problem- but does that translate to them also being more likely to then think vaccination itself is a risk? Of course not; if you don’t think avoiding something is a risk, that doesn’t mean doing it is a risk... but maybe it sets the cognitive stage for you to be predisposed to accept that act as risky if other factors are at play?

If I try to test this out mentally with my personal experience of people who think childhood vaccination is a risk, it tends to be well educated progressive moms who seem like they are trying to avoid risk to their children first and foremost (to hell with helping others stay healthy) and small pockets people with religious or other cult-ish beliefs that may shun vaccination less because they believe strongly in personal freedom, etc etc.

Gammas are least vaccination-friendly, beta’s more vaccination-friendly, for the win, Dan?

2) Hey--where is the Tea Party?! Are its members IC-αs, IC-βs, IC-γs, or IC-δs?

What fun! Ok, so I would guess, based again on my own experience with self identified tea partiers, reading/research, and your past writing on the subject, that for one thing, TPers would be near the bottom of the public safety risk dimension (i.e. the low end). For whatever reason, they just seem less likely to be concerned with safety risks and figure things will just sort themselves out. They are probably more gamma and delta, because they are less concerned with safety risks… and then based on the common perception that they favor personal freedom and free markets, they probably score lower concern on deviance risks as well, so maybe TPers are mostly gammas too. Could it be?

I also think tea party is so problematic- I know some tea partiers who are actually quite agreeable and generally socially progressive, but otherwise libertarian and overly-skeptic types. Then, I know some more conservative, religious types who also like the tea party. So that one is slippery.

December 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJen

(1) How do IC-αs, IC-βs, IC-γs and IC-δs feel about the risks of childhood vaccinations? Which risk-perception dimension--public-safety or social-deviancy--captures variation in perception of that risk? (2) Hey--where is the Tea Party?! Are its members IC-αs, IC-βs, IC-γs, or IC-δs?!

I'm hanging my hat on moral authority.

My perception is that the social deviancy scale captures the extent to which people feel that moral authority is external or supra-human versus internal and human-held.

I would expect those who experience low social deviance risk and moral authority to be internal/human-held to be more opposed to vaccination.

My observation is that Tea Party enthusiasts very much perceive an external moral authority (the Constitution). It does seem as if their assessment of risks to public safety is low, except in instances where their interpretation of their moral authority is not heeded (immigration, taxes). I would expect to find them among the Deltas.

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIsabel Penraeth

Hmm. My immediate reaction was to go with the 'null', that there would be either no or a randomly selected correlation, on the basis that I have no validated theory with which to predict anything else. But that would be boring, so let's see if I can construct something.

The risk, I would think, would be one of 'public safety', but there are two dimensions to that - the individual risk to public health (side effects versus catching the disease), and the collective risk to public health (pandemics). I could foresee separate responses to those two aspects.

However, the responsibility for collective action, and obedience to the health authorities, could also be seen as a *social* deviancy issue. It depends whether people feel the reason people should comply is of the utilitarian type (avoiding the disease, preventing pandemics) or of the social type (because the government says so, to fit in, because everybody does it, because the people who don't are 'nuts', etc.)

Is there any argument that vaccines don't prevent diseases and epidemics? Not so far as I know. The only arguments I've seen have been around the trade-off between the side-effects and these benefits, and libertarian/authoritarian arguments about the coercive aspect to making the decision. People don't like being *told* what to do, or having important decisions about the safety of their children made for them by other people.

There *are* side effects, and there is always the potential for unknown risks, so there is definitely a trade-off between risks to be struck, and the optimum point will differ depending on whether you only consider your own individual risks or if you also add in the collective risk to (and from) society via epidemics. The 'Harm Principle' says that society is only justified in coercing individuals to prevent significant (non-consensual) harm to others. There is a collective element to the risk, and a collective interest in the decision, but is it a strong enough interest to justify overriding the individual's sovereignty over their own body?

It seems to me that this is a perfectly legitimate argument. It's not actually an argument about the science, although such arguments do arise as a result of it. It's really an argument about if and when society should be able to coerce individuals (whether by law or just by social pressure). Even assuming that we agree that coercion is justified if there is a public risk, what should we do when we *don't* agree on the magnitude of that public risk? Nor is it a safe assumption - a lot of people think it is justified to coerce people 'for their own good'. And the success of government health bureaucrats is usually judged simply by the number of lives saved and illnesses prevented.

So what would be predicted, if this was so? Coherent positions can be held by each combination - someone who believes society has a role in getting people to do things 'for their own good' may nevertheless believe that vaccines pose too much of a risk and should therefore be banned on safety grounds. (i.e. they would coerce other people *not* to vaccinate their children, even if they wanted to.) Someone who believed that it should be up to each individual to make their own decision may be firmly convinced that the balance of risks supports vaccination, and while allowing that other people must have the right to refuse it, to think they are idiots for doing so. There don't appear to be any strong ideological constraints on the risk position.

However, the ideological symmetry is broken in our society by the fact that the state has decided that vaccination is worth it, and that the potential for collective harm justifies applying pressure to get people to comply. Those who agree with both parts will have no reason to examine the science more closely for flaws, will downplay the risks of vaccination and emphasise those of the disease. The libertarians who are only objecting to the coercion will probably be more neutral on the individual risk but sceptical of the collective risks of disease. The authoritarians who are only objecting to the decision made will more likely be sceptical of the individual risks.

But as for where they fall on your 'public safety risk factor' versus 'social deviancy risk factor' scales, I'm not sure, because I don't entirely understand the scale.

For example, you list legalisation of prostitution/marijuana and birth control for children, but these are all social deviancy risks as judged by the right. How about the risks posed to society by racism, sexism, islamophobia, homophobia, capitalist greed, and opposition to welfare? What risk is posed to society by, for example, the Tea Party? And is it a public safety risk or a social deviancy one?

Similarly, the public safety risks seem to be those judged as risky by the left. How about terrorism, communist spies, Islamic extremism, AIDS and other STDs, or violent crime (of the sort you might want a gun to defend yourself against)?

You see, most controversies about risk are actually trade-off's between *competing* risks. The risk to marriages of allowing prostitution versus the risks to prostitutes of outlawing prostitution. The risk of callously allowing the poor to starve versus the risk of bankrupting society's producers trying to feed them. The risks of sexual repression/intolerance versus the risks of sexual deviancy. The risks of public drunkenness versus the risks of prohibition.

Sometimes both risks are public safety, or both are social deviancy, or a public safety issue may be being traded against a social deviancy one. The same person might appear at opposite ends of the scales on different issues.

So I'm not sure if your scale measures aversion to risk of that type in *either* direction, or whether it might be an artefact of the issues chosen. It might just be coincidence; maybe I'm just seeing patterns in the noise.

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Regarding where are the individualistic heirarchical, I see it now, I was confused by the description in the gamma quadrant "culturally individualistic (egalitarian and heirarchical)".

Regarding "where is the Tea Party", I would say they are a mixture of libertarians and conservatives which would make them beta and delta. I agree with Jen, narrowing it down further is difficult. If the Tea Party is slightly more sci-comp than conservatives, then the center of their distribution would be slightly to the left of the vertical social deviancy axis, slightly gamma. They are anti-beta, so that suggests even further into the gamma.

I think the distribution would be a band across the gamma delta axis, centered at -1 on the public safety axis, -0.2 on the social deviancy axis, with a sigma of 1.5 on the public safety axis, spread over much of the social deviancy risk axis.

December 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFrankL

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