Measuring the Psychophysiology of Information Literacy

Geoff Walton, Jamie Barker, Matthew Pointon, Martin Turner, Andy Wilkinson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Deception is often used to great effect in psychology experiments but not in the study of information literacy. This paper describes an experiment involving deception to test psychophysiological reactions to mis-information. People aged 18-24 are the most likely users of the Internet including social media (ONS, 2017) and therefore more likely tobe exposed to mis-information. Booker (2016) found that frequency of use of social media in young people is linked to their level of happiness (well-being). For this reason it was thought appropriate to target this group. Due to the variability in which males and females use ICT (Ford, 2004) we decided to use males only (n=48). It is not known to what extent mis-information (e.g., fake-news) affects the psychophysiological responses of young males aged 18-24 and to what extent information discernment (in other words, the ability to make complex judgments about information (Walton, 2017)) protects against ill-being. This experiment seeks to demonstrate that information discernment level moderates the relationship between mis-information and cardiovascular reactivity in stressful social situation(s). Challenge and threat theory maintains that individuals respond to stressful situations with either an adaptive (challenge) or maladaptive (threat) response (Blascovich & Mendes, 2001). This experiment involved deceiving participants into believing they were helping a fellow student win a prize. In fact they were given a task that was impossible to complete to create mild stress. Participants completed a pre-test questionnaire that measured their information discernment level. Two physiological measures were taken: cardiovascular responses using a Finometer to monitor heart rate and eye-tracking to monitor eye movements. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions (control) or (experimental). In the experimental group participants were deceived into believing that they were working with someone with extreme religious views (mis-information). The working hypothesis was that those who scored highly in the information discernment questionnaire would react in a challenged way to stress and those with low scores would show a threat response. Results indicated that there is a relationship between information discernment and psychophysiological responses. Mean scores suggest that, when provided with mis-information, higher information discernment equated to a larger positive challenge and threat index and low information discernment equated to a lower negative index score. Also, higher levels of information discernment resulted in a healthier (adaptive) emotional response to a stressful task even when an individual was provided with mis-information. Eye-tracking data indicated that those with high information discernment tended to interrogate information more intensely than those with low information discernment. This added dimension of well-being indicates that these results have implications for policy makers and educators especially in the context of mis-information such as 'fake news'.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Sixth European Conference on Information Literacy (ECIL) - Abstracts
Subtitle of host publicationSeptember 24th–27th, 2018, Oulu, Finland
EditorsSonja Špiranec, Serap Kurbanoğlu, Maija-Leena Huotari, Esther Grassian, Diane Mizrachi, Loriene Roy, Denis Kos
PublisherUniversity of Oulo
ISBN (Print)9789526220130
Publication statusPublished - 24 Sept 2018
EventSixth European Conference on Information Literacy - Oulo, Finland
Duration: 24 Sept 201827 Sept 2018


ConferenceSixth European Conference on Information Literacy
Abbreviated titleECIL 2018
Internet address


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