Coping with Victimization by Technological Disaster


Department of Medical Psychology, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, 4301 Jones Bridge Road, Bethesda, Maryland 20814.


Technological catastrophes, defined as mishaps involving breakdown in human-made systems, appear to differ in the nature of threats that they pose. Coping with chronic stress associated with these events was examined by considering response to the Three Mile Island nuclear accident. Using the Ways of Coping Inventory (Folkman & Lazarus, 1980), use of emotional regulation, problem-oriented coping, and the assumption of responsibility or blame for problems associated with living near the damaged plant were considered. Patterns of response at TMI were compared to those of a control group, consisting of people living near an undamaged nuclear plant more than 100 miles from TMI. Stress was assessed by making simultaneous measurements of symptom reporting, task performance, and urinary catecholamines (epinephrine and norepinephrine). Findings suggested that both emotionally-focused coping and self-blame were associated with less stress than were problem-focused coping and denial. Further, emotional regulation and assumption of responsibility for encountered difficulty were related to one another and to perceived control as well. This suggested that a control-oriented coping style, in which the perception of control is actively created or maintained, can be effective in reducing distress associated with technological catastrophes.