Media Disaster Reporting Effects on Public Risk Perception and Response to Escalating Tornado Warnings: A Natural Experiment

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Mengtian Zhao
Heather Rosoff
Richard S. John
Previous research has evaluated public risk perception and response to a natural hazards in various settings; however, most of these studies were conducted either with a single scenario or after a natural disaster struck. To better understand the dynamic relationships among affect, risk perception, and behavioral intentions related to natural disasters, the current study implements a simulation scenario with escalating weather intensity, and includes a natural experiment allowing comparison of public response before and after a severe tornado event with extensive coverage by the national media. The current study also manipulated the display of warning information, and investigated whether the warning system display format influences public response. Results indicate that (1) affect, risk perception, and behavioral intention escalated as weather conditions deteriorated, (2) responses at previous stages predicted responses at subsequent stages of storm progression, and (3) negative affect predicted risk perception. Moreover, risk perception and behavioral intention were heightened after exposure to the media coverage of an actual tornado disaster. However, the display format manipulation did not influence behavioral responses. The current study provides insight regarding public perception of predisaster warnings and the influence of exposure to media coverage of an actual disaster event.