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Cognitive polyphasia in the MMR controversy: a theoretical and empirical investigation

Provencher, Claudine (2007) Cognitive polyphasia in the MMR controversy: a theoretical and empirical investigation. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis examines the hypothesis of cognitive polyphasia proposed by Serge Moscovici in La Psychanalyse, son Image et son Public (1961/1976). Despite its intuitive appeal, the hypothesis remains largely unexplored. This research is an attempt at understanding better the operations of cognitive polyphasia, in particular, at the level of social individuals who have to make sense of the world around them. The hypothesis of cognitive polyphasia is empirically examined through the controversy that surrounded the MMR vaccination programme in the UK between 1998 and 2005. The review of literature proposes a typology of cognitive polyphasia through an examination of empirical studies done by social representations theorists. A theoretical framework for the operationalisation of cognitive polyphasia is then proposed. This includes some elements of social cognition. The methodology chapter presents and discusses the specific methods used in this work, that is, expert interviews with health professionals and media representatives, media analysis of newspaper articles, focus groups and individual interviews with mothers of children of vaccination age. The analysis and findings of this empirical work are then presented in the results chapters focusing on their implications for our understanding of cognitive polyphasia at both the collective and the individual levels. A key finding of this study is the identification of a number of exemplars characteristic of different ways of sense making and of different ways of engaging into cognitive polyphasia. In particular, the study distinguishes between non- and polyphasic groups, that is, between people who have relied exclusively on scientific or narrative types of knowledge versus those who used a combination of types of knowledge to make sense of the MMR controversy. The theoretical implications of this work and the practical lessons that can be drawn from the public�s reactions when faced with scientific controversies are discussed in the conclusion chapter.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2007 Claudine Provencher
Library of Congress subject classification: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Sets: Departments > Psychological and Behavioural Science
Supervisor: Gaskell, George

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