University of Cambridge researchers are exploring novel possibilities to build psychological resistance against manipulation attempts and misinformation.
As an early generation of the digital information age, many of us are now all too familiar with the unyielding presence, and growing negative influence, of misinformation in our lives. And yet, despite this rapidly rising omnipresence, as individuals, and as a global society, we are still grappling with the basics of how misinformation affects us and how we can become better equipped at identifying and managing it.
As part of the IRIS Academic Research Group’s ‘Engage’ research stream, Prof Sander van der Linden and Dr Jon Roozenbeek, who are based at the Cambridge Social Decision Making Lab, are continuing to develop and test online interventions aimed at reducing susceptibility to misinformation.
This research is focused at the individual level and is primarily grounded in inoculation theory, which proposes that it is possible to build psychological resistance against future manipulation attempts by pre-emptively exposing people to a “weakened dose” of the tactics used to spread misinformation and encouraging them to generate their own counter-arguments and ways spot misinformation.
This new period of development will draw on earlier experimental work that culminated in several digital game-based interventions, including: ‘Bad News’, ‘Go Viral!’, ‘Bad Vaxx’ and ‘Harmony Square’, with a view to innovate and widen the application of these ideas.
Context for the use of these games is diverse but for this phase, attention will be given to critical issues of the present, namely vaccine hesitancy, including conspiracy theories about COVID-19, climate change and political disinformation.
In doing so, the aim is to produce forms of “gamified inoculation” whereby, just as vaccines work by enabling the body to produce antibodies to protect against future disease, the games act as a psychological vaccine against misinformation that trigger the production of mental antibodies to increase resistance to future exposure and persuasion attempts.
To hear and see more about this research you can tune into:
-> #PeopleFixingTheWorld podcast – ‘How to fight fake health news’ (Jan 2022)
-> #ItTakesImagination YouTube video – ‘The Vaccine for Fake News’ (Nov 2021)