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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Effect of Induced Fear on Culturally Transmitted Credulity Assessments

  • Author(s): Samore, Theodore James
  • Advisor(s): Fessler, Daniel M.T.
  • et al.

When threatening events occur, especially in the context of human violence, rumors spread precipitously. During such events as mass shootings and terrorist attacks, conflicting reports rapidly emerge and spread. People may be especially likely to believe these rumors because there is a general asymmetry in the costs of incorrectly maintaining vigilance in the case of a false positive, versus the costs of ignoring a potential threat in the course of a false negative. Likewise, even in the absence of a threatening situation, people appear to be simply more credulous of information concerning hazards than of information concerning benefits because of a fundamental disparity in costs between failing to act on a potential benefit versus disregarding, and incurring the costs of, a potential hazard. Here, using the framework of negatively biased credulity proposed by Fessler, Pisor, and Navarrete (2014), I investigated whether threatening situations impact an individual’s willingness to believe culturally-transmitted information about other hazards in the world. I hypothesized that participants primed to experience fear, but not anger, in the context of an imminent threat would be more credulous toward the existence of other hazards. Although findings were mixed across four studies, ultimately the results did not support the primary prediction, though it is difficult to resolve whether the null result was the product of an inaccurate hypothesis or methodological limitations in the experimental elicitation of fear. However, two out of three studies replicated the effect of negatively biased credulity as originally reported by Fessler and colleagues.

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