Information processing under stress: Community reactions

When presented with a threat, the individual has two competing tasks. One is the management of the threat itself perhaps through taking some form of action, referred to as danger control.  The second task is the management of the emotional response to the threat, referred to as fear control.  Fear is a generic phrase that is often used to describe heightened psychological arousal with respect to a perceived threat, and this emotional response is one component of anxiety. 

Psychological theory tells us that relationship between heightened psychological arousal and decision making quality is not linear and nor is it straightforwardly linked to action. The perception of threat can serve to engage an individual and motivate him or her to act.  Without such perception, action to manage the danger may not occur.

Our approach to understanding community members’ reactions to information will comprise two streams.  In the first stream, “Turning good intentions into action” we intend to focus on the manner in which community members process the information they receive in the lead up to, and during, the bushfire season. It is anticipated that much of this information will pertain to increasing community members’ levels of planning and preparedness (e.g. government messages, leaflets, community meetings).

In the second stream, “Warnings and their interpretations during emergencies” we intend to focus on the manner in which community members process information during bushfire emergencies. Whereas the former stream is somewhat more passive and less time sensitive, data collection will need to be enduring as preparatory behaviours need to be initiated well before bushfire season.  In contrast, the latter stream will be much more reactive in that we intend to respond immediately in the face of a bushfire emergency. 

The work intensity within this stream will be considerably more cyclical in nature (for example, there will be little data collection required from community members during the winter months).  Nonetheless, because we will have limited opportunities to collect data, the cyclical nature of this stream is offset by the considerable amount of time and effort that will need to be invested in gathering support from community members, and the piloting testing and refining of the measures and methods that we use.  Further, there may also be opportunities to conduct experimental research using simulations during the off-season.

Related news

AFAC 2013 Conference Logo
The formal proceedings of the Research Forum, held as part of the 2013 Bushfire CRC and AFAC Conference in Melbourne are now available.
Bushfire Preparedness Research
It is a critical choice that could have devastating repercussions for residents in bushfire-prone areas. Yet it’s a decision that many will delay until the day of a fire. Why do residents delay their decision to defend or evacuate, and what can be done to help them make more timely, appropriate choices?
Research shows that residents need triggers to take different actions
Why do many residents of bushfire prone areas delay their decision to defend or evacuate in response to a bushfire until the day of a fire?
Photo - Department of Fire and Emergency Services WA
Fire Note 108 outlines community preparedness research conducted into the bushfires that occurred in the Perth Hills in February 2011. It examines the link between several potential predictors of why residents prepare for a bushfire and different types of bushfire preparedness activities.

External References

Professor Tim Skinner talks about his Bushfire CRC project "Information Processing Under Stress - Community Reactions." Tim was interviewed at the 2010 Bushfire CRC annual conference in Darwin.

See video