Households respond to earthquake risk in different ways. The main theories explaining human behaviour under threat of earthquakes are reviewed. A survey of households’ responses in Tehran and Rasht in Iran to earthquake risks is used to assess the validity of psychological, ‘need’, socio-cultural and economic theories in explaining behaviour. More support of cognitive and cultural theories is found rather than economic and ‘need’ theories of earthquake safety measures; this suggests that positive adoption of mitigation measures can be encouraged in terms of cognitive processes through information and education.