Law and Human Behavior

, Volume 34, Issue 6, pp 501–516 | Cite as

Who Fears the HPV Vaccine, Who Doesn’t, and Why? An Experimental Study of the Mechanisms of Cultural Cognition

  • Dan M. KahanEmail author
  • Donald Braman
  • Geoffrey L. Cohen
  • John Gastil
  • Paul Slovic
Original Article


The cultural cognition thesis holds that individuals form risk perceptions that reflect their commitments to contested views of the good society. We conducted a study that used the dispute over mandatory HPV vaccination to test the cultural cognition thesis. Although public health officials have recommended that all girls aged 11 or 12 be vaccinated for HPV—a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer—political controversy has blocked adoption of mandatory school-enrollment vaccination programs in all but one state. An experimental study of a large sample of American adults (N = 1,538) found that cultural cognition generates disagreement about the risks and benefits of the vaccine through two mechanisms: biased assimilation, and the credibility heuristic. We discuss theoretical and practical implications.


Cultural cognition Risk perception HIV Biased assimilation Source credibility 



This study was funded by the National Science Foundation, Grant SES 0621840, the Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund at Yale Law School. We would like to thank Katherine Bell for editorial assistance.


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Copyright information

© American Psychology-Law Society/Division 41 of the American Psychological Association 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dan M. Kahan
    • 1
    Email author
  • Donald Braman
    • 2
  • Geoffrey L. Cohen
    • 3
  • John Gastil
    • 4
  • Paul Slovic
    • 5
  1. 1.Yale Law SchoolNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.George Washington Law SchoolWashingtonUSA
  3. 3.Stanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  4. 4.University of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  5. 5.Decision ResearchEugeneUSA

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