Consumers spontaneously construct attributions for negative events such as product-harm crises. Base-rate information influences these attributions. The research findings suggest that for brands with positive prior beliefs, a high (vs. low) base rate of product-harm crises leads to less blame if the crisis is said to be similar to others in the industry (referred to as the 'discounting effect'). However, in the absence of similarity information, a low (vs. high) base rate of crises leads to less blame toward the brand (referred to as the 'subtyping effect'). For brands with negative prior beliefs, the extent of blame attributed to the brand is unaffected by the base-rate and similarity information. Importantly, the same base-rate information may have a different effect on the attribution of a subsequent crisis depending on whether discounting or subtyping occurred in the attribution of the first crisis. Consumers who discount a first crisis also tend to discount a second crisis for the same brand, whereas consumers who subtype a first crisis are unlikely to subtype again.
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