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Rationality and Context: Antidotes for Anthrax Anecdotes
Unformatted Document Text:  15 to the East Coast. Although these judgments of the seriousness of the anthrax problem were unaffected by the experimental manipulations or rationality, they were significantly correlated with news item apprehension. Those who judged anthrax to be a serious problem reported more apprehension in response to the anthrax story. It is as if the judged seriousness of the anthrax problem served as a backdrop for evaluating the anthrax story. As straightforward as these findings are, at least one aspect of the obtained interaction is somewhat puzzling. Among those who received only the anthrax story, highly rational individuals manifested significantly higher apprehension levels than did their less rational counterparts. Because the experiment was conducted near the high point of the anthrax scare, it could be argued that being more apprehensive in response to an anthrax story presented in such an environment is rational, although both high and low rationality groups rated their likelihood of being anthrax victims to be extremely low. Another potential explanation for the difference between the high and low rationality groups is the fact that highly rational participants were significantly more likely than the lows to report that they followed the news closely. Although this explanatory gambit seems promising, the fact that the degree to which individuals followed the news was not related to the magnitude of their felt apprehension tends to undermine its plausibility. However, there is a third, somewhat related explanation. Aside from differences in how closely they follow the news, highly rational individuals may differ from less rational ones in terms of how news content affects their level of apprehension and concern. Even when their fear of personal victimization is minimal, high rationality individuals may experience elevated levels of apprehension over issues portrayed by the media as threats to the national well being. If so, we might also expect that their level of

Authors: Berger, Charles., Johnson, Joel. and Lee, Eun-Ju.
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to the East Coast. Although these judgments of the seriousness of the anthrax problem
were unaffected by the experimental manipulations or rationality, they were significantly
correlated with news item apprehension. Those who judged anthrax to be a serious
problem reported more apprehension in response to the anthrax story. It is as if the judged
seriousness of the anthrax problem served as a backdrop for evaluating the anthrax story.
As straightforward as these findings are, at least one aspect of the obtained
interaction is somewhat puzzling. Among those who received only the anthrax story,
highly rational individuals manifested significantly higher apprehension levels than did
their less rational counterparts. Because the experiment was conducted near the high
point of the anthrax scare, it could be argued that being more apprehensive in response to
an anthrax story presented in such an environment is rational, although both high and low
rationality groups rated their likelihood of being anthrax victims to be extremely low.
Another potential explanation for the difference between the high and low rationality
groups is the fact that highly rational participants were significantly more likely than the
lows to report that they followed the news closely. Although this explanatory gambit
seems promising, the fact that the degree to which individuals followed the news was not
related to the magnitude of their felt apprehension tends to undermine its plausibility.
However, there is a third, somewhat related explanation. Aside from differences
in how closely they follow the news, highly rational individuals may differ from less
rational ones in terms of how news content affects their level of apprehension and
concern. Even when their fear of personal victimization is minimal, high rationality
individuals may experience elevated levels of apprehension over issues portrayed by the
media as threats to the national well being. If so, we might also expect that their level of


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