Deciding to help: effects of risk and crisis communication in an ambigious crisis situation

Marije Bakker (Speaker), Kerstholt, J. H. (Speaker), Giebels, E. (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


Even though a lot is invested in highly sophisticated emergency and disaster management systems, ordinary citizens are usually the first responders when an emergency occurs. As they are at the scene, citizens can directly help victims and mitigate negative consequences of the situation at hand. Given the fact that the world has to deal with an increasing number of disasters, due to population growth, climate change and urban development, it is likely that ordinary citizens become even more important in response to emergencies and disasters in the future.
When confronted with a crisis situation citizens need to be able to make an accurate assessment and decide upon the most adequate action. However, in ambiguous situations individuals may have to decide between different risks. For example, they may know that moving victims may cause additional harm, but actually see that a victim lies at a dangerous spot. Our main research question is how risk communication (before an incident) and crisis communication (after an incident) affects decision making in such an ambiguous crisis situation.
The main task of the participants was to follow a specific route through a virtual environment, when unexpectedly an accident happened with two victims. Participants could react in several ways including moving the victim, talking to bystanders and victims and phoning the emergency services. As previous research showed significant effects of affective responses on behavior, we communicated risks by either presenting information about the probabilities and consequences or by a story describing a child who has experienced an accident. Crisis communication was manipulated during the experiment by presenting half of the participants explicit instructions about the most adequate actions. Behaviors like talking to victims and calling emergency services, as well as psychological constructs like risk perception and self-efficacy were measured.
An analysis of the results will be available by the time of the conference. Our main hypothesis concerns the interaction between risk- and crisis communication: we expect that participants who are affectively primed will more often move the participants than participants who had received information about risks, but that this tendency is reduced by presenting adequate crisis messages.
Event title24th Society for Risk Analysis-Europe Conference, SRA-E 2015: Science, policy and society: bridging the gap between risk and science
Event typeConference
Conference number24
LocationMaastricht, Netherlands


  • METIS-319102