This Psychologist Wants To Vaccinate You Against Fake News
Controlled exposure to misinformation can help reduce its effects
For Sander van der Linden, misinformation is personal.
As a child in the Netherlands, the University of Cambridge social psychologist discovered that almost all of his mother’s family had been executed by the Nazis during the Second World War. He became absorbed by the question of how so many people came to support the ideas of someone like Adolf Hitler, and how they might be taught to resist such influence.
While studying psychology at graduate school in the mid-2010s, van der Linden came across the work of American researcher William McGuire. In the 1960s, stories of brainwashed prisoners-of-war during the Korean War had captured the zeitgeist, and McGuire developed a theory of how such indoctrination might be prevented. He wondered whether exposing soldiers to a weaker form of propaganda might have equipped them to fight off a full attack once they’d been captured. In the same way that army drills prepared them for combat, a pre-exposure to an attack on their beliefs could have prepared them against mind control. It would work, McGuire argued, as a cognitive immunizing agent against propaganda—a vaccine against brainwashing.
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