Boosting people’s ability to detect microtargeted advertising

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


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
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


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