Boosting people’s ability to detect microtargeted advertising

Philipp Lorenz-Spreen*, Michael Geers, Thorsten Pachur, Ralph Hertwig, Stephan Lewandowsky, Stefan M. Herzog

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
114 Downloads (Pure)


Online platforms’ data give advertisers the ability to “microtarget” recipients’ personal vulnerabilities by tailoring different messages for the same thing, such as a product or political candidate. One possible response is to raise awareness for and resilience against such manipulative strategies through psychological inoculation. Two online experiments (total N=828) demonstrated that a short, simple intervention prompting participants to reflect on an attribute of their own personality—by completing a short personality questionnaire—boosted their ability to accurately identify ads that were targeted at them by up to 26 percentage points. Accuracy increased even without personalized feedback, but merely providing a description of the targeted personality dimension did not improve accuracy. We argue that such a “boosting approach,” which here aims to improve people’s competence to detect manipulative strategies themselves, should be part of a policy mix aiming to increase platforms’ transparency and user autonomy.
Original languageEnglish
Article number15541
Number of pages9
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Early online date30 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
(grant “Reclaiming individual autonomy and democratic discourse online: How to rebalance human and algorithmic decision making” to the authors R.H., S.L., and S.M.H.; Project description: and http:// M.G. is a fellow of the International Max Planck Research School on the Life Course (LIFE), Berlin. S.L. was supported by a Humboldt Award from the Humboldt Foundation in Germany during part of this work. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

Structured keywords

  • Cognitive Science
  • TeDCog


  • human behaviour
  • psychology


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