Boosting cognitive competences in online environments

Author: Stefan Herzog
Published: 2022
“Boosting” is aimed at improving people’s competences to face various challenges in their lives. Boosting interventions make it easier for people to exercise their own agency by fostering existing skills or developing new ones. Inoculation interventions against misinformation fall under the “boosting” banner: they help people recognize how they might be manipulated and misled, and adjust their attitudes and behavior accordingly.

Lateral reading

What is the boost?

Lateral reading is a simple heuristic for online fact-checking: Open multiple tabs in your browser and search the Web to verify the credibility of the information.

Which challenges does the boost tackle?

False and misleading information.

How does it work?

When a user views information from an unfamiliar source, they leave the page and verify the author/organization and the claims elsewhere (e.g., using search engines, Wikipedia).

Which competences does the boost foster?

Verifying online information and a source’s trustworthiness.

What is the evidence behind it?

Wineburg and McGrew (2017, 2019) conducted a study with Stanford undergraduates, university professors, and professional fact-checkers to determine the most effective strategies for evaluating the credibility of information online. Whereas undergraduates and professors stayed on the web page and read vertically, fact-checkers, when landing on an unfamiliar website, opened new tabs and read “laterally”, that is, they verified the source’s credibility on the web. Lateral reading was also included in a school curricula (Civic Online Reasoning curriculum): Students in the treatment group (which included teaching lateral reading strategy) were more likely to accurately judge a website’s credibility compared to a control group (McGrew et al, 2019; McGrew, 2020). In another recent field experiment, Wineburg et al. (2022) demonstrated that students in treatment classrooms (n = 271) grew significantly in their ability to judge the credibility of digital content compared to students in control classrooms (n = 228).

Key references

  • Brodsky, J. E., Brooks, P. J., Scimeca, D., Todorova, R., Galati, P. Batson, M., Grosso, R., Matthews, M., Miller, V., & Caulfield, M. (2021). Improving college students’ factchecking strategies through lateral reading instruction in a general education civics course. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 6, 1–18.
  • McGrew, S., Smith, M., Breakstone, J., Ortega, T., Wineburg, S. (2019). Improving university students’ web savvy: An intervention study. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 89, 485–500.
  • McGrew, S. (2020). Learning to evaluate: An intervention in civic online reasoning. Computers & Education, 145, 103711.
  • Wineburg, S., Breakstone, J., McGrew, S., Smith, M. D., & Ortega, T. (2022). Lateral reading on the open Internet: A district-wide field study in high school government classes. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication.
  • Wineburg, S., & McGrew, S. (2017). Lateral reading: Reading less and learning more when evaluating digital information. Stanford History Education Group Working Paper No. 2017-A1.
  • Wineburg, S., & McGrew, S. (2019). Lateral reading and the nature of expertise: Reading less and learning more when evaluating digital information. Teachers College Record, 121, 1–40.

This short video from the Stanford History Education Group explains how to use lateral reading and outlines the research behind it. Source: Stanford History Education Group (2020).