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Rationality and Context: Antidotes for Anthrax Anecdotes
Unformatted Document Text:  27 experiments and the coverage of these events by the news media, the significant reductions in the perceived seriousness of the anthrax threat and apprehension observed in Experiment 2 were to be expected. Thus, there is little in these data to suggest that differences in the testing situation produced any discernible effects. The results of the present experiments suggest that generalized assessments of the degree to which a potential threat constitutes a problem in the abstract provide an important backdrop for specific instances of the threat. Even when specific instances of the threat occur, they may be relegated to the status of unusual or deviant cases within a framework in which the problem itself is not judged to be serious. Moreover, activating other, more pervasive threats, can place specific instances of a threat into a more realistic context and thus assuage apprehension in response to instances of it, at least among those who prefer to think rationally, as we demonstrated here. Many more Americans were killed in traffic accidents than died from inhalation anthrax during the fall of 2001. Those who can both recognize and process such context-expanding information, even in the face of a barrage of news items about a much less probable threat, are less likely to be apprehensive about the improbable threat. In all probability they are also considerably less likely to be terrorized by terrorists.

Authors: Berger, Charles., Johnson, Joel. and Lee, Eun-Ju.
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27
experiments and the coverage of these events by the news media, the significant
reductions in the perceived seriousness of the anthrax threat and apprehension observed
in Experiment 2 were to be expected. Thus, there is little in these data to suggest that
differences in the testing situation produced any discernible effects.
The results of the present experiments suggest that generalized assessments of the
degree to which a potential threat constitutes a problem in the abstract provide an
important backdrop for specific instances of the threat. Even when specific instances of
the threat occur, they may be relegated to the status of unusual or deviant cases within a
framework in which the problem itself is not judged to be serious. Moreover, activating
other, more pervasive threats, can place specific instances of a threat into a more realistic
context and thus assuage apprehension in response to instances of it, at least among those
who prefer to think rationally, as we demonstrated here. Many more Americans were
killed in traffic accidents than died from inhalation anthrax during the fall of 2001. Those
who can both recognize and process such context-expanding information, even in the
face of a barrage of news items about a much less probable threat, are less likely to be
apprehensive about the improbable threat. In all probability they are also considerably
less likely to be terrorized by terrorists.


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