Psychological Inoculation? Prebunking? Assessing the Bad News Game That Targets Fake News

Trying to debunk a conspiracy theory by presenting facts and evidence often doesn’t work ☹ Perhaps prebunking, by giving insight into why fake news can appear credible, might help?

To put it another way, psychological inoculation presents a mild form of misinformation, preferably with explanation, in the hope of building resistance to real-life fake news. A vaccine for fake news!

Research on debunking and psychological inoculation is promising, and has practical spin-offs, including the Bad News game. A nice 2020 study by Melisa Basol and colleagues in Psychology at Cambridge (UK) reports evidence that this game can work as a fake news vaccine. (We’re considering this study as an example for ITNS2. Can you think of other studies we might consider? Please let’s know. More on this below.) First, the game.

The Bad News Game

Home page is here, see an information sheet here, play the game here. Playing is easy, quick, and absorbing, imho. You encounter mock Twitter fake news messages that illustrate six common strategies for making fake news memorable or believable. Below is an example of each. You make choices between messages and decide which ones to “forward” as you try to build your number of “followers”. Rather like real life for a conspiracy theorist wanting to spread the word.

Example fictitious fake news tweets that illustrate six strategies for making fake news memorable or believable

The Evaluation Study

Basol et al. (2020) is here. The online participants first saw a random ordering of 18 fictitious fake news tweets, such as those above, 3 of each of the 6 types. They rated each for reliability (accuracy, believability), and rated their confidence in that reliability rating. Those in the BadNews group then played the game for about 15 minutes, whereas those in the Control group played Tetris instead. Then all once again gave reliability and confidence ratings for the 18 tweets.

Overall, reliability ratings decreased after playing Bad News but hardly changed in the Control group, the difference of those differences being d = -0.59. Confidence ratings increased in the Bad News group but hardly changed in the Control group, the difference of those differences being d = 0.52. Playing Bad News not only led to reduced trust in the fake news messages, but increased confidence in seeing them as untrustworthy. That’s great.

Here’s the esci figure for the analysis of the change in reliability ratings from before to after playing one of the games. It’s from our latest version of esci in jamovi, not yet released, but you can generate figures like this using the released version from here.

Mean change in reliability ratings and 95% CIs for the two groups. Small red and blue dots are individual data points. The green triangle is the difference between the group means, with its 95% CI, plotted on the difference axis at right.

Finding Examples for ITNS2—Please Help

Basol et al. is well done, the data are available online, the design is simple and the research question is important and, surely, of interest to today’s students. Just the type of example we’re seeking for consideration for ITNS2.

It’s difficult to find such studies. If you know of any, please to let us know, even if they may not tick all our boxes. Good studies of a psychological aspect of climate change, pandemic, fake news, discrimination, violence, inequality… these and more could be just what we need. Many thanks.

Happy playing,


Basol, M., Roozenbeek, J., & van der Linden, S. (2020). Good news about Bad News: Gamified inoculation boosts confidence and cognitive immunity against fake news. Journal of Cognition, 3(1): 2, 1–9.

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