A Policy Maker’s Dilemma: Preventing Terrorism or Preventing Blame

10 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2011 Last revised: 8 May 2012

See all articles by A. Peter McGraw

A. Peter McGraw

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Marketing

Alexander Todorov

Princeton University

Howard Kunreuther

University of Pennsylvania - Operations, Information and Decisions Department; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: February 11, 2011

Abstract

Although anti-terrorism policy should be based on a normative treatment of risk that incorporates likelihoods of attack, policy makers’ anti-terror decisions may be influenced by the blame they expect from failing to prevent attacks. We show that people’s anti-terror budget priorities before a perceived attack and blame judgments after a perceived attack are associated with the attack’s severity and how upsetting it is but largely independent of its likelihood. We also show that anti-terror budget priorities are influenced by directly highlighting the likelihood of the attack, but because of outcome biases, highlighting the attack’s prior likelihood has no influence on judgments of blame, severity, or emotion after an attack is perceived to have occurred. Thus, because of accountability effects, we propose policy makers face a dilemma: prevent terrorism using normative methods that incorporate the likelihood of attack or prevent blame by preventing terrorist attacks the public find most blameworthy.

Keywords: Judgment, Likelihood, Risk, Probability Neglect, Outcome Bias, Hindsight Bias, Terrorism, Policy, Blame

Suggested Citation

McGraw, A. Peter and Todorov, Alexander and Kunreuther, Howard C., A Policy Maker’s Dilemma: Preventing Terrorism or Preventing Blame (February 11, 2011). Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Vol. 115, pp. 25-34. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1760179

A. Peter McGraw (Contact Author)

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Marketing ( email )

United States

Alexander Todorov

Princeton University ( email )

Green Hall
Princeton, NJ 08540
United States

Howard C. Kunreuther

University of Pennsylvania - Operations, Information and Decisions Department ( email )

3730 Walnut Street
558 & 559 Jon M. Huntsman Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19104-5340
United States
212-854-0423 (Phone)
215-573-2130 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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