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Listening to Reporters or Engineers? How Instance-Based Messages About Building Design Affect Earthquake Fatalism1


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    The authors thank Marc Wilson for his help with the analyses, and the Friday Research Group for their many useful comments.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to John McClure, School of Psychology, Victoria University of Wellington, P.O. Box 600, Wellington, New Zealand. E-mail:


Attributions are shaped by information about the causal mechanisms that produce outcomes. Two studies examined the effect of mechanism information on attributions for earthquake damage and judgments that the damage could be prevented. Scenarios based on actual reports of earthquakes compared 2 messages about the building design of damaged buildings. Accurate rate-based messages stated that well-designed buildings were resilient, whereas fatalistic, instance-based messages stated that well-designed buildings were damaged. In Study 2, to vary source credibility, the message source was either an engineer or a reporter. Participants made less fatalistic inferences and attributions with rate-based messages than with instance-based messages, regardless of the source. These findings show that rate-based messages are likely to reduce fatalism about earthquakes and other risks.

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