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Opportunities and Challenges for Studying Disaster Survivors


  • This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0519209 awarded to coauthor Kiplinger D. Williams.

*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jennifer M. Knack, Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Arlington, Box 19528, Arlington, TX 76019 [e-mail:].


Studying survivors of natural disasters and traumatic events provides a unique opportunity to address some of the important and difficult questions in psychology and other social sciences. However, such an opportunity does not come without challenges. Several methodological challenges to studying survivors of natural disasters are discussed, including recruiting participants, choosing appropriate procedures, and the safety of data collectors. Several ethical issues are also presented, such as the ability of participants to make decisions, the impact of participating, and the importance of informed consent. In addition, approaches are suggested that help to deal with these methodological and ethical challenges. We conclude that while attention must be focused on methodological and ethical considerations, research stemming from natural disasters should be employed to answer important basic and applied conceptual questions and address issues of practice and policy, while assuring that steps have been taken to protect participants and that the potential risks are minimal.