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Disasters provoked by the natural forces or the technical activities of people became a distinctive feature of the 20th and the 21st centuries and a major cause the mass traumatism among the population. In the common sense of the term, disaster is considered an unexpected destructive change followed by the significant disruptions and death of the people involved in the given situation. The researchers suggest distinguishing several types of disasters: natural, technogenic, and social (Lindell, 2013). And despite the differences in the origins of diverse disasters, they have the common features of abruptness, a serious threat to health and welfare of individuals and communities, interference with a regular mode of life, and violation of the environmental conditions’ integrity.
Human Behavior: Disaster Disruption and Adjustment
Along with the apparent negative impact on physical well-being, disasters affect the psychological state and human behavior. During the initial period of disaster unfolding, human behavior is usually determined by an intensive emotion of fear which mobilizes the organism for life-saving activities. Fear activation affects motor activity – the effect can vary from the increase in physical activity to the complete termination of motion – and decrease in decision-making capabilities (Duo, Shen, Zhao, & Gong, 2016).
In crisis situations, only a few people can maintain composure and evaluate the alternatives for actions, while the majority of people become overwhelmed for several minutes.
Within a few days after exposure to a traumatic experience, the victim comprehends the tragedy, and this initial post-traumatic stage is associated with a high level of stress and psychological instability. At this stage, a person may feel an acute aggravation of physical and mental conditions. At this stage panic attacks, the decrease in moral behavioral norms, depression, loss of appetite, and motivation for activity may occur.
The stage of psychological adjustment usually commences in two weeks after exposure to the impacts of a disaster, and it is manifested in behavioral reactions such as the resumption to interpersonal communication, normalization of emotional state, and mental condition.
Factors Influencing Response to Disasters
According to Lindell (2013), exposure to disasters may cause a great variety of adverse psychological responses, and the character of the psychological impact significantly depends on the type of disaster, its location, and the demographic background of the victim’s personality. It is considered that the condition of time may significantly affect victims’ behavior as well. For example, the analysis of the Titanic and the Lusitania disaster demonstrated that when the events unfold rapidly, the individuals become driven by the vital instincts which highlight individual egoistic concerns (Frey, Savage, & Torgler, 2011). On the contrary, when the situation develops slowly, people tend to demonstrate altruism, compliance with social norms, and personal values.
The common post-disaster effects include the changes in family bonding (both positive and negative), social and psychological maladaptation, changes in risk perception, excess stress, depression, and other psychological conditions influencing individual behavior.
The research in the effects of traumatic experiences on the behavior of rural residents in Indonesia made it clear that natural disaster drastically increases risk-vulnerability and results in the exhibition of “risk-averse behavior” in victims (Cameron & Shah, 2015). Exposure to traumatic experiences may also change personal beliefs. The victims of natural disasters in Indonesia started perceiving their environment as risky, and the fearful recollections largely affect individuals’ performance in multiple domains of life.
According to Elliott and Pais (2006), in the society characterized by a high level of social inequality, social identities and resources impact human response to a disaster and the consequent adjustment.
The analysis of Hurricane Katrina’s impacts on the residents’ well-being makes it clear that people with lower socioeconomic status experienced greater difficulties during evacuation and short-term recovery of physical damage and loss and, as a result, their adverse experiences were stronger (Elliott & Pais, 2006). At the same time, the promptness and availability of resources fostering the short-term recovery – medical service, housing, employment – are correlated with better long-term post-disaster adjustment.
Theoretic Approach to Development of Disaster Preparedness
Preparedness for disasters at both individual and social levels may become an efficient method for the reduction of disaster risks and mitigation of their adverse effects. The development of preparedness implies changing human behaviors in order to reduce individual risks and adopt the skills of coping with hazards.
According to the Vested interest theory, human behavior is significantly affected by individual attitudes. Vested interest is regarded in connection with the attitude objects and “it’s capacity to have meaningful personal consequences for an attitude holder” (Miller, Adame, & Moore, 2013). When a person perceives the attitude object as relevant to her welfare, her attitude predicts a behavior aimed at the achievement of a desired and relevant outcome.
A less vested interest relates to behaviors and actions which do not imply any attitude. To make the mitigation of disaster risk a vested interest and develop the relevant attitudes, it is important to raise public awareness while taking into consideration the geographical, social, and cultural characteristics of the regions.
According to the Social Cognitive Theory, preparedness intentions depend on the level of trust to the social, governmental, and informational agencies, as well as the perceived likelihood of disaster occurrence (Terpstra, 2011). It is possible to say that the level of trust is defined by personal beliefs, culture, experiences, perceptions of security, and thus, it is a subjective phenomenon. Therefore, the efficiency of risk management and the stimulation of human behavior is a critical situation depends on the abilities of authorities to consider the multicultural characteristics of the population, technical skills, and development of adequate disaster defense policies.
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Cameron, L., & Shah, M. (2015). Risk-Taking Behavior in the Wake of Natural Disasters. Journal Of Human Resources, 50(2), 484-515.
Duo, Q., Shen, H., Zhao, J., & Gong, X. (2016). Conformity behavior during a fire disaster. Social Behavior and Personality, 44(2), 313-324. Web.
Elliott, J. R., & Pais, J. (2006). Race, class, and Hurricane Katrina: Social differences in human responses to disaster. Social Science Research, 35(2), 295-321. Web.
Frey, B. S., Savage, D. A., & Torgler, B. (2011). Behavior under extreme conditions: The Titanic disaster. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 25(1), 209-222. Web.
Lindell, M. K. (2013). Disaster studies. Current Sociology, 61(5-6), 797-825. Web.
Miller, C. H., Adame, B. J., & Moore, S. D. (2013). Vested Interest theory and disaster preparedness. Disasters, 37(1), 1-27. Web.
Terpstra, T. (2011) Emotions, Trust, and Perceived Risk: Affective and Cognitive Routes to Flood Preparedness Behavior. Risk Analysis: An International Journal, 31(10), 1658-1675.