Teaching: On the Benefits of Critical Ignoring

Aimed at integrating cutting-edge psychological science into the classroom, Teaching Current Directions in Psychological Science offers advice and how-to guidance about teaching a particular area of research or topic in psychological science that has been the focus of an article in the APS journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Also see Teaching: The Unexpected Pleasure of Doing Good.

Kozyreva, A., Wineburg, S., Lewandowsky, S., & Hertwig, R. (2022). Critical Ignoring as a Core Competence for Digital Citizens. Current Directions in Psychological Science0(0).

People study psychology to understand themselves, others, and their global community. To foster such understanding, psychological scientists teach critical thinking. Using the scientific method, students learn how to approach competing ideas with an analytical mindset—leading them to rely on evidence rather than anecdote or intuition.  

According to Anastasia Kozyreva, Sam Wineburg, and APS Fellows Stephan Lewandowsky and Ralph Hertwig (2022), psychological scientists should also teach critical ignoring, defined as “choosing what to ignore and where to invest one’s limited attentional capacities.” The proliferation of digital information has given people greater access to information. Yet there are few checks and balances to separate false and misleading information from the truth. Thus, people must become smart ignorers of information (Hertwig & Engel, 2016).  

To engage in critical ignoring, Kozyreva and colleagues encourage people to use three approaches:  

  • Self-nudging: Redesign your environment to limit the temptation to consume unvetted information (Reijula & Hertwig, 2022). For example, people can use apps or web browser extensions that restrict their use of social media.   
  • Lateral reading: Ignore people or organizations who refuse to let you cross-check their claims with independent verification from third parties, especially those that may be inclined to disagree with them. Start by verifying information from its original source. Next, seek out independent verification from other sources. Professional fact-checkers commonly use lateral reading (Wineburg & McGrew, 2019). Don’t invest your limited attentional resources listening to people or organizations that refuse to have their claims verified.  
  • “Do Not Feed the Trolls”: Avoid trolls—people who seek to deceive or harm others online. Trolls score highly on sadism (example item: “I enjoy hurting people”), psychopathy (“Payback needs to be quick and nasty”), and Machiavellianism (“It’s not wise to tell your secrets”). Trolls also find annoying and upsetting others reinforcing (Craker & March, 2016). Any time you catch a whiff of someone engaging in troll-like behavior, block or ignore them.  
Student Activity: On the Benefits of Critical Ignoring

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Craker, N., & March, E. (2016). The dark side of Facebook®: The Dark Tetrad, negative social potency, and trolling behaviors. Personality and Individual Differences, 102, 79–84.  

Hertwig, R., & Engel, C. (2016). Homo ignorans: Deliberately choosing not to know. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 11(3), 359–372. 

Reijula, S., & Hertwig, R. (2022). Self-nudging and the citizen choice architect. Behavioural Public Policy, 6(1), 119–149.  

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(11), 1–40. 

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