Why People Stay Despite Hurricane Warnings

Posted on September 15, 2018

Lack of preparation is the primary reason why collateral damage is often as severe as they are despite the early warnings give to people living in affected areas. This lack of preparation can also be traced back to several cognitive biases that lead people to underestimate the severity of natural disasters and consequently, facilitate poor decision-making.

Surveys show that despite having been warned about incoming storms, only 20% if residents report having the appropriate measures in place. The reason for the lack of adequate preparedness in the majority could be due to the cognitive bias of having excessive optimism – people acknowledge that a storm was coming and that it could affect many people, but they did not think that they themselves would be affected.

This excessive optimism could be derived from informational social influence – residents may have seen little evidence of preparation on the part of their neighbours in their surrounding vicinity which led them to the conclusion that there was no danger if no one else was panicking or making preparation.

When we are uncertain about our next course of action, we tend to show an inclination to stick to the status quo – and that usually translates to doing nothing. If we are not sure when to evacuate or where to evacuate to, we tend to stay where we are because our information-processing systems tell us that where we are has been a safe place for a long time and there exists no information (yet) to contradict that information.

Another cognitive bias could be myopia. Humans are hardwired to prioritise the present moment rather than the future. Part of having an adequate protection and preparation against natural disasters include buying insurance or evacuating to safeguard against severe losses. These may be costly investments in the short-term – we tend to focus on the immediate cost of making pre-emptive action rather than the long-term consequences of putting it off which thus leads to delaying making the pre-emptive action.

Lastly, amnesia is a common recurring factor in people who have lived through similar natural disasters. They forget the inconveniences and difficulties that came with being ill-prepared, such as a lack of electricity or the post-disaster repair work, which then leads them to repeat their mistakes.

Understanding the cognitive mechanisms behind our tendency to underprepare is the key to (hopefully) undoing these cognitive biases.

Category(s):Adjusting to Change / Life Transitions, Stress Management

Source material from The Post and Courier

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