Want the Truth? Play the Game.
August 12, 2021
Remember when a significant number of people thought the COVID vaccine would give them COVID? Or that hydroxychloroquine might cure it? With so much bad or hyped information out there, it’s no wonder we all have misconceptions. The trick is not just presenting the right information, but also getting people to pay attention to it.
Greg Trevors, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Studies at the University of South Carolina, kept this in mind through his research on the ways to correct misconceptions about socio-scientific issues, including vaccines, genetically modified food, and climate change, among others.
Trevors is a recipient of a 2021 Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences (FABBS) Early Career Impact Award, as nominated by the Society for Text and Discourse. His research is supported in part by a Rapid Response Research grant from the National Science Foundation.
He found success with a digital game he created specifically to address misconceptions. People play by answering true and false questions. After each answer, the game immediately gives them the correct answer and a brief explanation.
“The game did what we wanted,” he said. “More than 200,000 people played, viewing 12 corrections on average and forming more accurate beliefs about COVID-19.”
In earlier studies, Trevors had participants, who were mostly undergraduate students, read texts containing misconceptions while Trevors conducted eye-tracking studies to determine which bits of information captured the most attention.
About 40 people participated in those studies – but it wasn’t until he created the digital game and advertised it on social media platforms – that he was able to recruit not only a larger number of participants, but also people from a range of ages and ethnicities.
In the COVID game, the questions contain concerning misconceptions about how the disease spreads, as well as various treatments and preventions. When common misconceptions fade from public discourse, such as taking garlic as a preventative, Trevors reworks the questions to reframe the focus on new misconceptions.
He has developed three games, three on COVID, including one on COVID vaccines in the United States and Canada – you can check out itsinfectious.com for the 2020 Canadian COVID game.
The games present in fun and colorful formats, and game participants typically stick with it for three to five minutes on average.
Randomized control studies confirmed game participants finished with a higher level of knowledge about COVID and vaccines than participants given the same information in a traditional text format, such as a pamphlet.
Trevors said he intends to tailor the game toward specific segments of the population such as healthcare workers, businesses, and communities with low vaccine rates. Trevors and his team are also working on games on different topics, such as climate change and election integrity, and those will be targeted to geographical regions where the largest numbers of people seem to have misconceptions.
Potential for Future Impact
- Expanding upon the theoretical knowledge about how, why, and for whom corrections may effectively update misconceptions about controversial socio-scientific topics.
- Development of educational interventions to address misinformation and de-politicize scientific information.
- Investigating individual and cultural factors that may be related to misconceptions.