After witnessing a tornado in Iowa in 2006, Dr. Jason Rose became interested in how people cope once their lives have been uprooted by these natural disasters.“When people have a disaster happen — something traumatic — you want to get a sense of how they’re able to adjust or cope,” the UT assistant professor of psychology said.
Rose joined psychology professors Jerry Suls, Paul Windschitl and Andrew Smith to study this topic. Their findings were somewhat of a surprise to them.
“What happens is that people become pretty optimistic about the future,” Rose said. “They don’t really feel like tornado injuries are likely to happen to them. When comparing themselves to their peers, they feel like they are uniquely invulnerable.”
To find this information, Rose and his colleagues established areas in Iowa that had been dramatically affected by the tornado they had witnessed. They then found areas that were not affected and surveyed residents from those two areas.
They found that residents in the areas most affected actually were more optimistic about avoiding future tornado injury than were residents from the least affected locations.
“It’s kind of an interesting finding and somewhat counter-intuitive,” Rose said.
He said one explanation could be that the people in the impacted areas know they have survived a tornado once and they feel confident they could again. Another reason is the old idea that lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place, so those affected may think that this rare event will not happen to them more than once.
Rose and the psychology professors collectively wrote an article published March 1 for the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Suls, a professor at the University of Iowa, was the main author; he was assisted by Rose, Windschitl of the University of Iowa and Smith of Appalachian State University.