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Psychological inoculation against misinformation
  1. Sander van der Linden
  1. Professor of Social Psychology in Society, University of Cambridge, UK


Sander van der Linden is Professor of Social Psychology in Society in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge and Director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab. Before coming to Cambridge, he held posts at Princeton and Yale University. His research interests center around the psychology of human judgment and decision-making. In particular, he is interested in the social influence and persuasion process and how people are influenced by (mis)information and gain resistance to persuasion through psychological inoculation. He is also interested in the study of fake news, media effects, social networks, and belief systems (e.g., conspiracy theories), as well as the emergence of social norms, polarization, reasoning about evidence, and public understanding of risk and uncertainty. His research spans from social psychology to cognitive science using a variety of techniques, from virtual reality to survey and lab studies to computational social science and large-scale (online) interventions.

His forthcoming book FOOLPROOF: Why Misinformation Infects Our Brains, and How to Build Immunity (WW Norton/HarperCollins) is to be published later this month. He has published around 150 papers and is ranked among the top 1% of all social scientists worldwide (Clarivate ISI Highly Cited Researcher) and among the top 2% across all scientific fields (Ioannidis, Boyack, & Baas, 2020).

Abstract Much like a viral contagion, misinformation can spread rapidly from one mind to another. Moreover, once lodged in memory, misinformation is difficult to correct. Inoculation theory therefore offers a natural basis for developing a psychological ‘vaccine’ against the spread of fake news and misinformation. Specifically, in a series of randomized lab and field studies, I’ll show that it is possible to pre-emptively ‘immunize’ people against disinformation about a wide range of topics by pre-exposing them to severely weakened doses of the techniques that underlie its production. This process of ‘prebunking’ helps people cultivate cognitive antibodies in a simulated social media environment. During the talk, I’ll showcase several real-world interventions we developed and empirically evaluated in 20 languages—with governments and social media companies—to help citizens around the world recognize and resist unwanted attempts to influence and mislead.

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