Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Natural Disasters Influence Mental Mistakes

Psych Central By Rick Nauert PhD on February 13, 2012 

A new study in the journal Human Factors finds that survivors of disasters may experience intellectual challenges in addition to stress and anxiety. This mental decline may cause survivors to make serious errors in their daily lives. It was published by New Zealand researchers after the Christchurch earthquake.

Studies have found that more traffic accidents and accident-related fatalities occur following human-made disasters such as the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Experts believe the mishaps are due to increased cognitive impairment that can lead to higher stress levels and an increase in intrusive thoughts. 

This study was looking at human performance and required two sessions with volunteers.  The earthquake occurred between the sessions so the researchers took the opportunity to compare before and after.
Normally, participant performance would improve during the second session, but the authors found an increase in errors of omission following the earthquake.

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.

“People would find themselves zoning out and making more errors than usual after the quake.”
Investigators believe future research is needed to explore this phenomenon further, but the scientists’’ findings may point to potentially serious complications arising from post-disaster 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.”

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