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Reading about explanations enhances perceptions of inevitability and foreseeability: a cross-cultural study with Wikipedia articles

Abstract

In hindsight, people often perceive events to be more inevitable and foreseeable than in foresight. According to Causal Model Theory (Nestler et al. in J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 34: 1043–1054, 2008), causal explanations are crucial for such hindsight distortions to occur. The present study provides further empirical support for this notion but extends previous findings in several ways. First, ecologically valid materials were used. Second, the effect of causal information on hindsight distortions was investigated in the realm of previously known events. Third, cross-cultural differences in reasoning (analytic vs. holistic) were taken into account. Specifically, German and Vietnamese participants in our study were presented with Wikipedia articles about the nuclear power plant in Fukushima Daiichi, Japan. They read either the version that existed before the nuclear disaster unfolded (Version 1) or the article that existed 8 weeks after the catastrophe commenced (Version 2). Only the latter contained elaborations on causal antecedents and therefore provided an explanation for the disaster. Reading that version led participants to perceive the nuclear disaster to be more likely inevitable and foreseeable when compared to reading Version 1. Cultural background did not exert a significant effect on these perceptions. Hence, hindsight distortions were obtained for ecologically valid materials even if the event was already known. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.

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Notes

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Neutral_point_of_view and http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Neutraler_Standpunkt.

  2. Version 1: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Fukushima_Daiichi_Nuclear_Power_Plant&oldid=396253422; Version 2: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Fukushima_Daiichi_Nuclear_Power_Plant&oldid=427595027. Note that from version 2 only technical information about the power plant provided in a table was cut.

  3. Note, however, that the pattern of results was identical when including item 3 or when analyzing it separately. Also, it seems noteworthy that internal consistency varied between both samples (Vietnamese α = .31, German α = .60). This may be due to a differential understanding of inevitability between German and Vietnamese participants.

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Acknowledgments

Preparation of the manuscript was supported by grants from the DFG to Aileen Oeberst and Ulrike Cress (OE 604/1-1) and Steffen Nestler and Mitja D. Back (NE 1485/5-1). We are grateful to Nguyen Thi Hoai Nga who helped us with collecting data from Vietnamese students.

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Correspondence to Aileen Oeberst.

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Oeberst, A., von der Beck, I. & Nestler, S. Reading about explanations enhances perceptions of inevitability and foreseeability: a cross-cultural study with Wikipedia articles. Cogn Process 15, 343–349 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10339-014-0603-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10339-014-0603-7

Keywords

  • Hindsight bias
  • Causal models
  • Wikipedia
  • Cross-cultural comparisons