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4 Ways People Process Information During a Crisis

A person sitting against a wall with their head tucked between their kneesIn a crisis, affected people take in information, process information, and act on information differently than they would during non-crisis times. We wanted to share Crisis + Emergency Risk Communication’s (CERC) Psychology of a Crisis resource that provides explanation for how and why people process information during a crisis including guidance on how to effectively communicate during a crisis.  Over several emails, we will highlight different sections of this comprehensive resource. 

In today’s article, we will focus on the Four Ways People Process Information During a Crisis section. Below is a simplified version (with suggested support strategies) that can be found in the full resource linked above.

  1. We simplify messages.
    • Under intense stress and possible information overload, we tend to miss the nuances of health and safety messages by doing the following:
      1. Not fully hearing information because of our inability to juggle multiple facts. 
      2. Not remembering as much of the information as we normally could. 
      3.  Misinterpreting confusing action messages. 
    • To cope, many of us may not attempt a logical and reasoned approach to decision making. Instead, we may rely on habits and long-held practices. We might follow bad examples set by others. 
    • Support Strategy: Use simple messages.
  1. We hold on to current beliefs
    • Changing our beliefs during a crisis or emergency may be difficult. Beliefs are often held very strongly and not easily altered. We tend not to seek evidence that contradicts beliefs we already hold. 
    • We may be more likely to take advice from a trusted source with which we are familiar, even if this source does not have emergency-related expertise and provides inaccurate information.
    • Support Strategy: Ensure Messages come from a credible source.
  1. We look for additional information and opinions.
    • We remember what we see and tend to believe what we’ve experienced. During crises, we want messages confirmed before taking action. You may find that you or other individuals are likely to do the following: 
      1. Change television channels to see if the same warning is being repeated elsewhere. 
      2. Try to call friends and family to see if others have heard the same messages.
      3. Turn to a known and credible local leader for advice. 
      4. Check multiple social media channels to see what our contacts are saying
    • Support Strategy: Use Consistent Messages.
  1. We believe the first message. 
    • The first message to reach us may be the accepted message, even though more accurate information may follow. 
    • When new, perhaps more complete information becomes available, we compare it to the first messages we heard.
    • Support Strategy: Release accurate messages as soon as possible.

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