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Cogn Process. 2014 Aug;15(3):343-9. doi: 10.1007/s10339-014-0603-7. Epub 2014 Feb 27.

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

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  • 1Knowledge Media Research Center, Schleichstr. 6, 72076, Tübingen, Germany,


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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