Work within worldviews, identity and moral values

Understanding what others see as right and wrong can help us to connect with what’s most important to them and find the common ground between what we hope to achieve and what matters to them.

Our beliefs are intertwined with our identities, moral values and worldviews. Beliefs affect which information we’re willing to accept as true and how we should respond to it. We are influenced by people within our networks who share our identity, worldviews and moral values. These factors influence how we hear messages, and motivate us to accept or reject information.

Research by social psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky suggests that people use mental shortcuts (or intuitive thinking) to navigate their social world. The cues we take from messages and messengers help us quickly assess how we should feel about a particular issue. This is in contrast to slower, analytical thinking that requires more cognitive effort. 

Worldviews are the collection of beliefs we hold about the world around us. People have different worldviews that guide how they think the world works, and how they act in response to social and environmental issues. Worldviews exist along a continuum, with people falling on different points. Identifying the worldview of a community is important for a campaign to be able to identify messages and solutions that will resonate, and to avoid those that will lead to information avoidance or perceived threat.

Identities are the various groups we see ourselves as belonging to. These identities are often more helpful for segmenting communities than demographics, because they are self-selected and based on the interests of the individual. People within a social group tend to have similar values and beliefs and engage in the same normative behavior. Research suggests that we are unlikely to engage in behavior that separates us from the groups with which we identify.

What’s going to be compelling for some audiences is what resonates with their personal values. So for those who are rugged individuals, it could be about the freedom to go back to work as quickly as possible, and the freedom to go back and congregate at your place of worship as soon as possible. And the freedom to move about on your own in your community on your own time. So it’s all about that sense of individual agency, but for others, it may be about responsibility to community and family and being a good parent, or being a good daughter or son to protect an elderly immunocompromised parent.

Monica Schoch-Spana, Ph.D., Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security

Moral values

Research on moral values and decision-making suggests that people support issues that resonate with their existing values as compared to those that threaten or challenge these values. Moral Foundations Theory identifies five moral values that inform this sort of processing: Loyalty, Fairness, Care, Authority and Sanctity/Purity and people’s proclivity to these correlate with their political ideology.

Moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt suggests that people rely on affectation—whether something feels good or bad—to form these quick judgements. If something makes us feel bad, we will find a reason to justify why it is wrong. If something makes us feel good, we will find a reason to justify why it is right. People rely on information cues that help them quickly assess how they should feel about an issue. 

People who are more conservative tend to value respect for authority, in-group loyalty, and preserving the sacred or pure, while people who are more liberal tend to value fairness and protection from harm. Here is a breakdown of the motivations for each value based on work by Haidt, Graham and Nosek (2009):

These values play out differently across different countries.

Conservative Values

In-group loyalty. Emphasis on loyalty or betrayal to his or her group. Emphasis on protecting the group, even above their own interests.

Respect for authority. Emphasis on respect for tradition and hierarchy and responsibility to fulfill duties of his or her role within society.

Purity/Sanctity. Identifying something as unnatural or disgusting, or violating standards of purity and decency. Emphasis on acting in a virtuous way.

Liberal Values

Protection from harm. Emphasis on protecting someone from harm, suffering, emotional distress, violence. Care for the weak and vulnerable. 

Fairness. Emphasis on equality and justice, i.e., people treated differently than others or someone denied his or her rights. 

attitudes towards vaccines are about the way people think the world operates. I guess the association we see between populist or anti establishment voters and vaccine hesitancy relates to something about people’s views towards elites and experts. This relates to people’s understanding of the States and capitalism, pharmaceutical companies and things like this. So I think we have to really understand that there’s some deep structural determinants of vaccine hesitancy that go way beyond information and awareness.

— Jonathan Kennedy, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in Global Public Health at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry


Examine the worldviews, identities and moral values of your target communities and discuss vaccines in the context of what you know is most important to them.

As you apply the other principles in this guide, start with an understanding of the worldviews, identities and moral values of those whose behavior you’re working to shift.

Build clear calls to action that resonate with the moral values, worldviews and identities of those whose mindsets you hope to shift.

The more loyal people are to their “in group,” the more likely they are to think the vaccine should be mandatory.

Of the people who are highly loyal to their in-group, 71% of them agree or strongly agree the vaccine should be mandatory.

The less loyal people are to their “in group,” the less likely they are to think the vaccine should be mandatory.

Almost 65% of the people who do not value in-group loyalty disagree or strongly disagree the vaccine should be mandatory.