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Rationality and Context: Antidotes for Anthrax Anecdotes
Unformatted Document Text:  23 declined markedly. The decrease in perceived seriousness of the problem observed across the two experiments comports closely with broader reductions in both the coverage of the anthrax problem by the news media and the seriousness of the terrorism threat as reflected in the Gallup Poll data. This reduction in the perceived seriousness of the anthrax threat set up the preconditions for assessing the viability of the second hypothesis. As anticipated by this hypothesis, the reduced seriousness of the anthrax threat tended to erode the apprehension assuaging effect of the traffic deaths story among highly rational individuals that was observed in Experiment 1, thus eliminating the interaction between rationality and the story conditions in Experiment 2. This interaction was replaced in the second experiment with an effect for rationality, such that highly rational individuals tended to be less apprehensive than the lows. This main effect did not approach significance in the first experiment. Direct comparisons of the two experiments showed that the significant overall reduction in expressed news item apprehension was driven by a relatively large reduction in apprehension among high rationality individuals. It seems likely that the general reduction in the perceived seriousness of the anthrax threat during the interval between the two experiments prompted different responses to the anthrax story on the part of high and low rationality individuals. As the Experiment 2 results suggest, regardless of their story condition, high rationality participants responded to the anthrax story with lower apprehension levels than did low rationality processors. Apparently, for high rationality individuals the fact that the anthrax threat had diminished over time rendered the potential contextualizing effects of the traffic deaths story unnecessary. That is, the traffic deaths story’s value as a cue for gauging the amount of apprehension to feel in response

Authors: Berger, Charles., Johnson, Joel. and Lee, Eun-Ju.
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declined markedly. The decrease in perceived seriousness of the problem observed across
the two experiments comports closely with broader reductions in both the coverage of the
anthrax problem by the news media and the seriousness of the terrorism threat as
reflected in the Gallup Poll data. This reduction in the perceived seriousness of the
anthrax threat set up the preconditions for assessing the viability of the second hypothesis.
As anticipated by this hypothesis, the reduced seriousness of the anthrax threat tended to
erode the apprehension assuaging effect of the traffic deaths story among highly rational
individuals that was observed in Experiment 1, thus eliminating the interaction between
rationality and the story conditions in Experiment 2. This interaction was replaced in the
second experiment with an effect for rationality, such that highly rational individuals
tended to be less apprehensive than the lows. This main effect did not approach
significance in the first experiment.
Direct comparisons of the two experiments showed that the significant overall
reduction in expressed news item apprehension was driven by a relatively large reduction
in apprehension among high rationality individuals. It seems likely that the general
reduction in the perceived seriousness of the anthrax threat during the interval between
the two experiments prompted different responses to the anthrax story on the part of high
and low rationality individuals. As the Experiment 2 results suggest, regardless of their
story condition, high rationality participants responded to the anthrax story with lower
apprehension levels than did low rationality processors. Apparently, for high rationality
individuals the fact that the anthrax threat had diminished over time rendered the
potential contextualizing effects of the traffic deaths story unnecessary. That is, the traffic
deaths story’s value as a cue for gauging the amount of apprehension to feel in response


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