Citizens Versus the Internet: Confronting Digital Challenges With Cognitive Tools

Anastasia Kozyreva*, Stephan Lewandowsky, Ralph Hertwig

*Corresponding author for this work

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

146 Citations (Scopus)
437 Downloads (Pure)


The Internet has evolved into a ubiquitous digital environment in which people communicate, seek information, and make decisions. Online environments are replete with smart, highly adaptive choice architectures designed primarily to maximize commercial interests, capture and sustain users’ attention, monetize user data, and predict and influence future behavior. This online landscape holds multiple negative consequences for society, such as a decline in human autonomy, rising incivility in online conversation, the facilitation of political extremism, and the spread of disinformation. Benevolent choice architects working with regulators may curb the worst excesses of manipulative choice architectures, yet the strategic advantages, resources, and data remain with commercial players. One way to address this imbalance is with interventions that empower Internet users to gain some control over their digital environments, in part by boosting their information literacy and their cognitive resistance to manipulation. Our goal is to present a conceptual map of interventions that are based on insights from psychological science. We begin by systematically outlining how online and offline environments differ despite being increasingly inextricable. We then identify four major types of challenges that users encounter in online environments: persuasive and manipulative choice architectures, AI-assisted information architectures, distractive environments, and false and misleading information. Next, we turn to how psychological science can inform interventions to counteract these challenges of the digital world. After distinguishing between three types of behavioral and cognitive interventions—nudges, technocognition, and boosts—we focus in on boosts, of which we identify two main groups: (1) those aimed at enhancing people’s agency in their digital environments (e.g., self-nudging, deliberate ignorance) and (2) those aimed at boosting competences of reasoning and resilience to manipulation (e.g., simple decision aids, inoculation). These cognitive tools are designed to foster the civility of online discourse and protect reason and human autonomy against manipulative choice architectures, attention-grabbing techniques, and the spread of false information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-156
Number of pages54
Journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2020

Structured keywords

  • Cognitive Science
  • Memory
  • TeDCog


  • algorithms
  • attention economy
  • behavioral policy
  • boosting
  • cognitive tools
  • decision autonomy
  • digital environment
  • disinformation
  • false news
  • nudging
  • technocognition


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