2020 Research Prize in Public Interest Communications

Good News for How to Fight Bad News

Two scholars who created an online game to help people recognize fake news and online misinformation won the $10,000 Research Prize in Public Interest Communications at the frank2020 gathering in Gainesville, Fla.

The research, conducted by the University of Cambridge scholars Jon Roozenbeek and Sander van der Linden, draws on social psychology and explores the ability to psychologically inoculate people to spot and resist common online fake news strategies. The game, called Bad News, puts players in a social media environment and allows them to be the creator of fake news. This real-intervention proved successful across cultures and political settings.

Winning paper:

Fake News Game Confers Psychological Resistance Against Online Misinformation

Publication: Palgrave Communications

Authors: Jon Roozenbeek, Department of Slavonic Studies and Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge; and Sander van der Linden Department of Psychology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Cambridge

Abstract: The spread of online misinformation poses serious challenges to societies worldwide. In a novel attempt to address this issue, we designed a psychological intervention in the form of an online browser game. In the game, players take on the role of a fake news producer and learn to master six documented techniques commonly used in the production of misinformation: polarization, invoking emotions, spreading conspiracy theories, trolling people online, deflecting blame, and impersonating fake accounts. The game draws on an inoculation metaphor, where preemptively exposing, warning, and familiarizing people with the strategies used in the production of fake news helps confer cognitive immunity when exposed to real misinformation. We conducted a large-scale evaluation of the game with N = 15,000 participants in a pre-post gameplay design. We provide initial evidence that people’s ability to spot and resist misinformation improves after gameplay, irrespective of education, age, political ideology, and cognitive style.

The winning paper was one of three selected – from a pool of more than 70 entries – as finalists for this year’s annual prize competition. In addition to the $10,000 grand prize for peer-reviewed academic research that informs the growing discipline of public interest communications, the Center for Public Interest Communications awards $1,500 to each of the two other finalists. A review committee of scholars and practitioners selected the three papers for this year’s competition.

The finalists papers are:

Finalist Paper
Credibility-Enhancing Displays Promote the Provision of Non-Normative Public Goods

Publication: Nature

Authors: Gordon T. Kraft-Todd, Department of Psychology, Yale University; Bryan Bollinger, Fuqua School of Business, Duke University; Kenneth Gillingham, School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Yale University; Stefan Lamp, Toulouse School of Economics, University of Toulouse Capitole; and David G. Rand, Sloan School and Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Abstract: Promoting the adoption of public goods that are not yet widely accepted is particularly challenging. This is because most tools for increasing cooperation—such as reputation concerns and information about social norms—are typically effective only for behaviors that are commonly practiced, or at least generally agreed upon as being desirable. Here we examine how advocates can successfully promote non-normative (that is, rare or unpopular) public goods. We do so by applying the cultural evolutionary theory of credibility-enhancing displays, which argues that beliefs are spread more effectively by actions than by words alone—because actions provide information about the actor’s true beliefs. Based on this logic, people who themselves engage in a given behaviour will be more effective advocates for that behavior than people who merely extol its virtues—specifically because engaging in a behavior credibly signals a belief in its value. As predicted, a field study of a program that promotes residential solar panel installation in 58 towns in the United States—comprising 1.4 million residents in total—found that community organizers who themselves installed through the program recruited 62.8% more residents to install solar panels than community organizers who did not. This effect was replicated in three pre-registered randomized survey experiments (total n = 1,805). These experiments also support the theoretical prediction that this effect is specifically driven by subjects’ beliefs about what the community organizer believes about solar panels (that is, second-order beliefs), and demonstrate generalizability to four other highly non-normative behaviors. Our findings shed light on how to spread non-normative prosocial behaviors, offer an empirical demonstration of credibility-enhancing displays and have substantial implications for practitioners and policy-makers.

Finalist Paper
How Hope and Doubt Affect Climate Change Mobilization

Publication: Frontiers In Communication

Authors: Jennifer Marlon1, Brittany Bloodhart, Matthew T. Ballew1, Justin Rolfe-Redding3, Connie Roser-Renouf3, Anthony Leiserowitz1 and Edward Maibach3
1School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University; 2Department of Psychology, Colorado State University; and 3Center for Climate Change Communication, George Mason University

Abstract: The severe threats posed by anthropogenic climate change make hope and a sense of efficacy key ingredients in effective climate communication. Yet little is known about what makes individuals hopeful–or in contrast, doubtful–that humanity can reduce the problem, or how hope relates to activism. This study uses mixed-methods with two national surveys to (1) identify what makes people hopeful or doubtful that humanity will address the problem (Study 1, N = 674), and (2) whether hopeful and doubtful appraisals are related to activism or policy support (Study 2, N = 1,310). In Study 1, responses to open-ended questions reveal a lack of hope among the public. For those with hope, the most common reason relates to social phenomena–seeing others act or believing that collective awareness is rising (“constructive hope”). Hope for some, however, stems from the belief that God or nature will solve the problem without the need for human intervention (which we call “false hope”). The most prevalent doubts are low prioritization, greed, and intergroup conflict (i.e., the need for cooperation at various scales to successfully address the issue). We identified both “constructive” and “fatalistic” doubts. Constructive doubts are concerns that humanity won’t address the problem effectively, while fatalistic doubts are beliefs that we can’t address the problem even if we wanted to because it is in the hands of God or Mother Nature. In study 2, we used these emergent hope and doubt appraisals to develop survey measures. Regression analyses suggest that constructive hope and doubt predict increased policy support and political engagement, whereas false hope and fatalistic doubt predict the opposite. An interaction exists between constructive hope and doubt in predicting political behavioral intentions, which suggests that having hope that humans will reduce climate change, along with recognition that humans are not doing enough may also be constructive and motivate political action. Climate change communicators might consider focusing on constructive hope (e.g., human progress, the rise of clean energy), coupled with elements of constructive doubt (e.g., the reality of the threat, the need for more action), to mobilize action on climate change.