Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Social Attachment Shapes Emergency Responses: Evidence from a Postfire Study

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Social Attachment Shapes Emergency Responses: Evidence from a Postfire Study

Article excerpt

For effective emergency management and disaster mitigation, it is necessary to understand human behavior, and there is a substantial amount of interest among social psychologists in explaining the psychological processes behind group behavior in emergency evacuation contexts (see, e.g., Aguirre, 2005). In the classic view of human responses in dire emergencies, it is assumed that people lose their humanity and social order breaks down. In this view, when there is an immediate major physical danger and the possibility of escape is either limited or rapidly diminished, the fear of entrapment induces panic behavior (Fritz & Marks, 1954) and is so overwhelming that individuals are dominated by survival instincts and become extremely selfish (McDougall, 1920). In laboratory experiments, researchers have also shown that there is inevitable competition for escape opportunities in panic situations (Kelley, Condry, Dahlke, & Hill, 1965; Mintz, 1951). These classic or early discourses were integrated into the mass panic model, in which people are described as primitive, irrational, highly emotional, and asocial in times of emergency (Drury, Cocking, & Reicher, 2009; Sime, 1983).

The mass panic model is widely used in safety engineering and social policies, because it describes the worst scenario in mass emergency evacuation. However, recent research has shown that the mass panic model is more like a popular myth (Auf Der Heide, 2004; Gantt & Gantt, 2012; Sheppard, Rubin, Wardman, & Wessely, 2006). Johnson (1987a) carefully examined three emergency events that had been described as causing people to exhibit forms of panic, but found little evidence for unregulated competition or other maladaptive behavior. He argued that the social function was not overridden by primitive survival instincts, and that individuals continued to be social actors embedded in social organizations even in extreme circumstances. Johnson's work changed the current perspective of collective behaviors (Aguirre, 2005) and the key driving forces that determine human responses in emergency situations. Altruistic behaviors, such as mutual helping, which are often observed in real emergency events, should not be simply explained by occasionally heroic actions, but rather by a more general social psychological foundation. Mawson (2005) made a worthy effort in this direction, expanding Johnson's perspective by linking attachment theory with adaptive behaviors in such situations to develop his social attachment theory, elaborated below.

Despite the vast body of research into emergency egress and ingress (Kuligowski, 2013), few scholars have examined social psychological behavior in these contexts. Sime (1983) studied affiliation behaviors during escape using data collected from 148 survivors of a large resort complex fire, and found that groups with very close psychological ties among members attempted to escape together, whereas mixed groups of friends or relations were less likely to remain intact during evacuation. In another study on evacuation behavior in a high-rise building explosion, Aguirre, Wenger, and Vigo (1998) found that large groups with strong social bonds were more reluctant to evacuate, suggesting that this dense web of relationships inhibited competitive flight behavior. Therefore, we examined to what extent human reactions in emergency situations are influenced by social psychological variables.

Literature Review

Social Attachment Theory of Emergency Behavior

Bowlby (1969) suggested that people's behavior is guided by innate behavioral systems that are shaped to increase the likelihood of survival. When triggered by perceived threats and dangers, the attachment behavioral system promotes regaining or maintaining proximity to a wiser and stronger other who is perceived as providing greater protection. Mawson (2005) argued that the typical response to danger is not fight or flight, but affiliation, which entails seeking or remaining in the proximity of familiar conspecifics and places. …

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