Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Human cognitive performance suffers following natural disasters

Date:
February 11, 2012
Source:
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society
Summary:
Not surprisingly, victims of a natural disaster can experience stress and anxiety, but a new study indicates that it might also cause them to make more errors - some serious - in their daily lives. Researchers have explored how cognitive performance can decline after earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Not surprisingly, victims of a natural disaster can experience stress and anxiety, but a new study indicates that it might also cause them to make more errors -- some serious- in their daily lives. In their upcoming Human Factors article, "Earthquakes on the Mind: Implications of Disasters for Human Performance," researchers William S. Helton and James Head from the University of Canterbury explore how cognitive performance can decline after earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Related Articles


Past research has indicated that more traffic accidents and accident-related fatalities occur following human-made disasters such as the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, due to increased cognitive impairment that can lead to higher stress levels and an increase in intrusive thoughts. However, no research has been conducted on the effects of natural disasters on cognitive performance. The authors were unexpectedly presented with a unique opportunity to investigate the impact of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, with participants in a study on human performance they were conducting at the time of the quake.

"We were conducting a [different] study on human performance requiring two sessions," said Helton. "In the midst of the study, between the two sessions, we had a substantial local earthquake, which resulted in the rare opportunity to do a before/after study. We were quick to seize the opportunity."

The researchers measured participants' cognitive control by asking them to either press a button corresponding to numbers presented on a video screen or to withhold a response to a preselected number presented on the same screen. Normally, participant performance would improve during the second session, but the authors found an increase in errors of omission following the earthquake.

Helton and Head also noted distinct differences in pre- and post-earthquake findings depending on self-reported responses to the disaster: If the participants reported being anxious following the quake, their response times sped up and they made more errors of commission, whereas those who reported depression logged slower response times.

"The article provides evidence for a phenomenon many people report experiencing after a major event like an earthquake," said Helton. "People would find themselves zoning out and making more errors than usual after the quake."

Future research is needed to explore this phenomenon further, but the researchers' findings may point to potentially serious complications arising from postdisaster performance in daily life and work tasks. These findings also suggest that police, emergency responders, and others working in the aftermath of the disaster may also experience cognitive disruption, which can interfere with their ability to perform rescue-related tasks.

"Presumably people are under increased cognitive load after a major disaster," Helton continued. "Processing a disaster during tasks is perhaps similar to dual-tasking, like driving and having a cell phone conversation at the same time, and this can have consequences."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. "Human cognitive performance suffers following natural disasters." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 February 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120211095351.htm>.
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. (2012, February 11). Human cognitive performance suffers following natural disasters. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 27, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120211095351.htm
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. "Human cognitive performance suffers following natural disasters." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120211095351.htm (accessed January 27, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Obama's Wildlife Plan Renews Alaska Drilling Debate

Obama's Wildlife Plan Renews Alaska Drilling Debate

Newsy (Jan. 26, 2015) President Obama&apos;s proposal aims to protect more land in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but so far, all that&apos;s materialized is a war of words. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Florida Might Legalize Black Bear Hunting

Florida Might Legalize Black Bear Hunting

Newsy (Jan. 24, 2015) A string of black bear attacks has Florida officials considering lifting the ban on hunting the animals to control their population. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dramatic Footage Shows Coast Guard Rescue Off Scottish Coast

Dramatic Footage Shows Coast Guard Rescue Off Scottish Coast

Reuters - News Video Online (Jan. 23, 2015) Footage just released by the UK Coast Guard shows a dramatic helicopter rescue off the Scottish coast, where five men were plucked to safety after their fishing boat sank on Saturday. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stunning Wingsuit Proximity Flying in Norway

Stunning Wingsuit Proximity Flying in Norway

Rumble (Jan. 23, 2015) A collection of amazing shots from flights made in the Aurland Valley in Norway. How incredible is that? Credit to &apos;BASEjumper&apos;. Video provided by Rumble
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

    Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile: iPhone Android Web
    Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins