On November 21, Dr. Fadi Makki, Head of B4Development, took the WISE (World Innovation Summit for Education) 2019 stage to share pioneering success cases combining behavioral science, inoculation theory and gamification to combat worldwide negative behavioral phenomena. Under the theme “UnLearn, ReLearn: What it means to be Human”, WISE 2019 was held between November 19 and November 21 at the Qatar National Convention Center. The three-day conference marked the summit’s tenth anniversary, welcoming 2,000 educators, decision-makers, and influential experts from the public and private sectors from over 100 countries.


At the WISE launchpad, Makki introduced the audience to the inoculation theory, incepted by social psychologist William McGuire’s inoculation theory in 1961. The theory suggests that similarly to biological vaccination, psychological vaccination can immunize people’s mental systems against certain beliefs, attitudes and behaviors using the same methods they did to protect their bodies against viruses.


Building on this theory, Makki shared modern use cases of “psychological vaccines” to deter people from violent and radicalized behaviour. One such case is the collaborative work between Cambridge University researchers Sander van der Linden and Jon Roozenbeek on Get Bad News, a ‘social impact game’ where users are immunized against fake news. Game players are assigned to the role of a propagandist villain and introduced to social media tactics used into the dissemination of fake news – namely polarization, trolling, impersonation, conspiracy and discredit.


With more than 950,000 people having played Get Bad News to date, preliminary pilot results on the game’s impact, canvassing 15,000 respondents, showed that it reduced the perceived reliability and persuasiveness of fake news articles, and improved players’ ability to spot their many tactics. B4D’s and Nudge Lebanon’s collaboration with the Get Bad News duo for the game’s Arabic translation paved the way for Radicalise, a groundbreaking use case of gamified inoculation theory and behavioral insights for PVE (Preventing Violent Extremism) that Makki also shared at WISE 2019.


Radicalise, the brainchild of a collaborative effort between Nudge Lebanon, Nabil Saleh, B4D, Roozenbeek, Van Der Linden and DROG, is a PVE game that was designed to ‘vaccinate’ social media users most vulnerable to recruitment and malicious communications by radical groups, assigning them to the role of a “Chief Recruitment Officer” in a fictitious extremist organization. As they level up their gameplay, players acquire tactics used by radical groups across four stages of the game.


To assess the impact of these psychological vaccines, Radicalise was tested as a Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) among 291 participants. Its preliminary analysis suggested that Radicalise improved players’ ability to discern manipulative WhatsApp messaging used by extremist recruiters.  Radicalise players were also better at identifying target individuals most susceptible to recruitment by radical groups from a larger pool of fake profiles.


The Radicalise team then tested two additional metrics to assess the game’s more deeply rooted cognitive and affective influence on players. The first, the outcome of a “oneness test” borrowed from social psychology, showed that people who played Radicalise exhibited stronger connections with the police, their family, the media and their neighbors.


Another analysis, using the IBM Watson Tone Analyzer technology, is now gaging participants’ overall sentiment after playing the game – preliminary results suggest a correlation between Radicalise’s gameplay and participants’ analytical capabilities.  Out of the UK, where the Radicalise pilot was conducted, B4D and Nudge Lebanon are now looking at scaling up and replicating this proof of concept to new audiences and markets, focally among developing countries, conflict zones and at-risk youth.


“A game that is informed by behavioral insights, like Radicalise, can serve as an ‘educative nudge’ – a tool that Cass Sunstein, co-founder of the nudge theory, calls boost, the development of people’s good decision-making capabilities rather than the manipulation of their choice architecture,” said Makki.


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