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Student Showcase Archive
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Elena Jarmoskaite

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Bad Blood: Motivated Reasoning in the Visual Communication Promoting Anti-Vaccinationist Views in the Nineteenth and Twenty-first Century United States of America

This dissertation explores the current and historical debates surrounding mandatory childhood vaccination in the United States and, more specifically, the visual communication produced to promote anti-vaccinationist views. The contemporary media, science and communication discourses are reviewed in search of an explanation for the centuries-long persistence of vaccination opposition in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence proving both the necessity and the safety of childhood vaccination. 

The research undertaken for this project is found to suggest that the underlying themes in anti-vaccinationist views have remained largely unchanged since the late nineteenth century, with this persistence potentially being explainable by motivated reasoning influencing vaccine-opposing attitudes. On the basis that vaccine hesitancy is found to be dependent on four attitude roots—conspiratorial beliefs, high psychological reactance, disgust sensitivity, and individual/hierarchical worldviews—a methodological framework is established to assess this theory’s validity in the analysis of primary evidence of anti-vaccinationist communication. 

Two historically significant anti-vaccinationist organisations—the nineteenth-century Anti-Vaccination Society of America, and late twentieth to early twenty-first century National Vaccine Information Center—are identified as case studies. Examples of their visual communication targeting parents nationwide are situated in their broader historical context and analysed for the manifestations of potential attitude root triggers. The examples from both periods reveal clear evidence of catering to their audience’s pre-existing attitudes, with the examples showing both expected differences in their form and content, and astonishing similarities in the approaches employed. 

With the acknowledgment that the lack of knowledge about the material’s authorship and the deliberateness of these strategies, and the lack of reliable data about the effectiveness of these communication materials, these results are concluded to still be merely speculative. However, this experimental cross-disciplinary approach is believed to be useful for future research into the employment of visual communication in the spread of scientific misinformation, hopefully paving the way for more effective communication between healthcare providers and recipients.


  • Elena Jarmoskaite (Jarmosh) is a professional graphic designer and graduate of the V&A/RCA MA History of Design Programme. Elena's research has covered diverse, yet interconnected subjects of history of design (and beyond) throughout the course; her work ranges from research into the pewter industry and its role in alcohol consumption in nineteenth-century London to the impact of plastic on the post-war medical design and manufacture in the United States. Her Distinction-awarded dissertation – a project she continues working on following the end of the course – is a fusion between her professional expertise and her academic interests. It focuses on the dissemination of anti-vaccinationist views in the nineteenth- and twenty-first-century United States of America, exploring the role of the visual media in the spread of misguided – and dangerous – anti-scientific narratives.

    Throughout her fifteen months in the two institutions, Elena has been involved in multiple public-facing projects. She headed the marketing committee for the Decolonising_________ event at the RCA in March 2018; co-hosted a guided indulgence-themed tour at the V&A for the National Volunteer Week in June 2018; exhibited in and designed exhibition materials for the Interactive Object Histories exhibition at the RCA in May 2018; art directed, co-designed and co-produced the History of Design end-of-year publication, Almanac, in January 2019; designed marketing materials for the Design Curators Clinic in February 2019; is consulting the design process of the RCA-based research initiative, OPEN, started in February 2019. 

  • Previous degrees

  • BA (Hons) Graphic Design, Norwich University of the Arts, 2013
  • Experiences

  • Designer, Penguin Random House, London, 2016–; Designer, Design Curators Clinic, RCA, London, February 2019; Design Consultant, OPEN research initiative, RCA, February 2019; Creative Director, Co-designer & Co-producer, Almanac, V&A/RCA, London, January 2019; Exhibitor and Designer, Interactive Object Histories, V&A/RCA, London, May 2018; Head of Marketing Committee, Decolonising_________, V&A/RCA, London, March 2018; Visual Designer, Blake House Filmmakers Cooperative, London, 2018; Junior Art Director, TBWA\Worldwide, Vilnius, 2015–16; Design Assistant, Penguin Random House, London, 2013–15; Volunteer Designer, CTC International, Austin, Texas, 2012; Design Intern, The Sunday Times, London, 2012; Design Assistant, 1883 Magazine, London, 2012
  • Exhibitions

  • Interactive Object Histories, Hockney Gallery, London, 2018; Royal College of Art Graduate Show 2019, RCA Battersea, London, 2019
  • Publications

  • 'Facts', Almanac, 2019, p. 44-45
  • Awards

  • Francis Clark Wood Institute for the History of Medicine of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia Travel Grant, 2018
  • Sponsors

  • Francis Clark Wood Institute for the History of Medicine of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia
Royal College of Art