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Rationality and Context: Antidotes for Anthrax Anecdotes
Unformatted Document Text:  9 However, using statistical information about a more likely threat such as heart disease to undermine the apprehension generated by a much less likely threat such as botulism has the potential to generate more apprehension about the less probable threat. That is, if the individual receiving both stories fails to apprehend the contrast in the relative risk of the threats discussed in the two stories, their effects could become additive, thus resulting in increased apprehension in response to the focal threat. This additive condition would arise if the story processor were to ignore the distinction between high base-rate and low base-rate threats to people. Individuals who show lower proclivities for rational processing should be more likely to process information about threats in this manner. Consequently, we predicted a crossover interaction on apprehension between rationality and experimental conditions that involved either a threatening story only or the threatening story preceded by a story about a much more prevalent threat. Anthrax contamination was employed as the focal threat to test this hypothesis. The first experiment was conducted during the last week of November, 2001, when individual anthrax deaths were still being covered by the news media. The second experiment, a replication of the first, was conducted on 10 January 2002, a time by which the anthrax scare had abated considerably. This second experiment enabled us to examine the potential effects of changes in the anthrax threat’s perceived seriousness over time on the hypothesized interaction. Experiment 1 Method Participants

Authors: Berger, Charles., Johnson, Joel. and Lee, Eun-Ju.
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9
However, using statistical information about a more likely threat such as heart
disease to undermine the apprehension generated by a much less likely threat such as
botulism has the potential to generate more apprehension about the less probable threat.
That is, if the individual receiving both stories fails to apprehend the contrast in the
relative risk of the threats discussed in the two stories, their effects could become additive,
thus resulting in increased apprehension in response to the focal threat. This additive
condition would arise if the story processor were to ignore the distinction between high
base-rate and low base-rate threats to people. Individuals who show lower proclivities for
rational processing should be more likely to process information about threats in this
manner. Consequently, we predicted a crossover interaction on apprehension between
rationality and experimental conditions that involved either a threatening story only or the
threatening story preceded by a story about a much more prevalent threat.
Anthrax contamination was employed as the focal threat to test this hypothesis.
The first experiment was conducted during the last week of November, 2001, when
individual anthrax deaths were still being covered by the news media. The second
experiment, a replication of the first, was conducted on 10 January 2002, a time by which
the anthrax scare had abated considerably. This second experiment enabled us to examine
the potential effects of changes in the anthrax threat’s perceived seriousness over time on
the hypothesized interaction.
Experiment 1
Method
Participants


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