No topic brings out more passionate opinions from parents than vaccination. This is made abundantly clear whenever there is a measles outbreak. Proponents of vaccination share their outrage on social media, posting study after study debunking the age-old vaccine-autism link, and pleading with parents to vaccinate their kids.

But each of these tactics only serve to galvanize those opposed to vaccinations — called anti-vaxxers — and further convince them that the science behind vaccination isn't legit. In fact, according to a recent study, public service and social media attempts to use facts to dispel fears about vaccination often backfire and lead parents to more staunchly refuse vaccinations for their children.

A recent study offers up a better approach: Don't just tell parents what might happen if they don't vaccinate their kids, show them. For the study, participants who were shown images of children with measles were far more likely to think that vaccination was a good idea than those who were not.

Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign conducted the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They recruited 315 participants — both parents and non-parents — and used a survey to gauge their thoughts on vaccination. Participants were then randomly divided into three groups. In one group, subjects were given material to read that spelled out the facts and dispelled the link between vaccination and autism. In the second group, participants were asked to read a letter written by a mother who described what it was like when her child contracted measles. They were also shown three pictures of children with measles, mumps and rubella. The third group — the control — was given unrelated scientific information to peruse.

The results were dramatic. Participants in the first and third groups both had slightly more positive attitudes about vaccination at the end of the study. But the group that was given the pictures and first-hand testimonials of real cases of measles had vaccination approval rates at least five times greater than participants in the other two groups.

The next step, according to researchers, would be to move this type of "scare-tactic intervention," into an arena in which parents might be more likely to then immediately choose vaccination — at the doctor's office. The suggestion is that doctors should avoid lecturing parents about vaccination and instead show them pictures and give them information about real cases of kids with measles. According to this study at least, this might be a better way to convince parents to vaccinate their kids.

With measles, pictures speak louder than words
Want to get parents to vaccinate their kids? Show them pictures of measles outbreaks.