• Cognitive polyphasia;
  • social cognition;
  • types of knowledge;
  • MMR controversy

Despite its intuitive appeal and the empirical evidence for it, the hypothesis of cognitive polyphasia (Moscovici, 1961/1976/2008) remains largely unexplored. This article attempts to clarify some of the ideas behind this concept by examining its operations at the level of individuals and by proposing a conceptual model that includes some elements of social cognition. Indeed, calls for a rapprochement between the theory of social representations and cognitive psychology have been made by Moscovici, in particular, in his 1984 paper on The myth of the lonely paradigm and in his paper on La nouvelle pensée magique (1992) in which he argues that the theory of social representations provides an explanatory framework for the descriptions offered by cognitive psychology and that their combining could translate into a finer understanding of contemporary social phenomena.

Building on the results of an empirical examination of the controversy that surrounded the MMR vaccination programme in the UK between 1998 and 2005, different ways of engaging into cognitive polyphasia are proposed, including what can be described as cognitive “monophasia”, that is, the exclusive use of one type of knowledge, at least at the level of the individual. A brief discussion about the implications of the proposed conceptual model for our understanding of cognitive polyphasia and of the different ways of making sense of the world around us concludes this article.