Delage, Jonas and Tamara van der Does

The skepticism towards childhood vaccines and genetically modified (GM) food has grown against scientific evidence of their safety. Distrust in scientific reseaNeuroscience and Cognitionh has important societal consequences, from the spread of diseases to hunger in poorer regions. However, these scientific beliefs are hard to change because they are en- trenched within many related moral beliefs and perceived beliefs of one’s social network. To understand when belief change is possible, we propose a cognitive net- work model which integrates both moral and social beliefs and provides testable empirical predictions. Using a probabilistic nationally representative longitudinal study, we find that individuals who changed their beliefs, either towards more pos- itive or negative beliefs about childhood vaccines or GM food, had a reduction in the estimated dissonance of their cognitive belief network. These results are in line with model predictions, shed light on the mechanisms leading to belief change, and have implications for science communication.