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Emotions, Trust, and Perceived Risk: Affective and Cognitive Routes to Flood Preparedness Behavior


Teun Terpstra, HKV Consultant, The Netherlands; and


Despite the prognoses of the effects of global warming (e.g., rising sea levels, increasing river discharges), few international studies have addressed how flood preparedness should be stimulated among private citizens. This article aims to predict Dutch citizens’ flood preparedness intentions by testing a path model, including previous flood hazard experiences, trust in public flood protection, and flood risk perceptions (both affective and cognitive components). Data were collected through questionnaire surveys in two coastal communities (n= 169, n= 244) and in one river area community (n= 658). Causal relations were tested by means of structural equation modeling (SEM). Overall, the results indicate that both cognitive and affective mechanisms influence citizens’ preparedness intentions. First, a higher level of trust reduces citizens’ perceptions of flood likelihood, which in turn hampers their flood preparedness intentions (cognitive route). Second, trust also lessens the amount of dread evoked by flood risk, which in turn impedes flood preparedness intentions (affective route). Moreover, the affective route showed that levels of dread were especially influenced by citizens’ negative and positive emotions related to their previous flood hazard experiences. Negative emotions most often reflected fear and powerlessness, while positive emotions most frequently reflected feelings of solidarity. The results are consistent with the affect heuristic and the historical context of Dutch flood risk management. The great challenge for flood risk management is the accommodation of both cognitive and affective mechanisms in risk communications, especially when most people lack an emotional basis stemming from previous flood hazard events.

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