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Rationality and Context: Antidotes for Anthrax Anecdotes
Unformatted Document Text:  25 concerning traffic deaths acted to assuage their apprehension levels in response to the anthrax story, in much the same way as population data assuaged apprehension in the previous studies. Thus, contrary to the previous research, apprehension associated with a threat deemed to be very low in personal risk was reduced when placed in a broader statistical context. The potential conflict between the present study’s findings and those of the prior studies can perhaps be reconciled by considering another relevant factor; that is, the degree to which the threat is perceived to constitute a serious problem. As noted previously, it is perfectly reasonable to judge a threat to be serious in the abstract, for example, the threat of nuclear war, while at the same time judging the likelihood of one’s becoming a victim of the threat to be relatively low. Conversely, individuals might judge a threat to be relatively less serious in the abstract, but perceive it quite likely that they might become a victim of it. For example, in previous studies (Berger, 2002) burglary as a national problem was rated somewhat lower than was anthrax in Experiment 1; however, individuals rated the likelihood of being a burglary victim to be considerably higher than the likelihood they might become an anthrax victim. In either case, the present study’s findings suggest that the perceived seriousness of the threat in the abstract may function in much the same way as perceived victimization risk did in the previous studies. That is, relevant base rate data may take on increased cue value as potential apprehension reducers when the perceived seriousness of the threat is relatively high and lose their cue value as the threat’s seriousness diminishes. Of course, the present experiments’ findings underwrite this proposition only among those whose preferred thinking style is rational.

Authors: Berger, Charles., Johnson, Joel. and Lee, Eun-Ju.
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concerning traffic deaths acted to assuage their apprehension levels in response to the
anthrax story, in much the same way as population data assuaged apprehension in the
previous studies. Thus, contrary to the previous research, apprehension associated with a
threat deemed to be very low in personal risk was reduced when placed in a broader
statistical context.
The potential conflict between the present study’s findings and those of the prior
studies can perhaps be reconciled by considering another relevant factor; that is, the
degree to which the threat is perceived to constitute a serious problem. As noted
previously, it is perfectly reasonable to judge a threat to be serious in the abstract, for
example, the threat of nuclear war, while at the same time judging the likelihood of one’s
becoming a victim of the threat to be relatively low. Conversely, individuals might judge
a threat to be relatively less serious in the abstract, but perceive it quite likely that they
might become a victim of it. For example, in previous studies (Berger, 2002) burglary as
a national problem was rated somewhat lower than was anthrax in Experiment 1;
however, individuals rated the likelihood of being a burglary victim to be considerably
higher than the likelihood they might become an anthrax victim. In either case, the
present study’s findings suggest that the perceived seriousness of the threat in the abstract
may function in much the same way as perceived victimization risk did in the previous
studies. That is, relevant base rate data may take on increased cue value as potential
apprehension reducers when the perceived seriousness of the threat is relatively high and
lose their cue value as the threat’s seriousness diminishes. Of course, the present
experiments’ findings underwrite this proposition only among those whose preferred
thinking style is rational.


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