Personal Attribution in Disastrous Events: Locus of Control in Natural and Man-made Disasters
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
MCPHAIL, J. V. (2005). Personal Attribution in Disastrous Events: Locus of Control in Natural and Man-made Disasters. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 8. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved October 23, 2017 .

Personal Attribution in Disastrous Events: Locus of Control in Natural and Man-made Disasters
JAMIE V. MCPHAIL
MISSOURI WESTERN STATE UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (cronk@missouriwestern.edu)
ABSTRACT
Disasters afflicting America are raising questions in responsibility and personal perceived control on many factors. Locus of control is a variable that affects disaster preparedness. There have been numerous studies using locus of control as a measured variable to determine disaster preparedness and one’s perceived self-attribution in such events. 94 participants from two psychology classes at a university in northwestern Missouri were given a survey to measure locus of control rating in natural disasters (older and recent), man-made disasters (older and recent), and gender. Interestingly, there was a main effect for time on older and recent disasters. An interactional effect was found for Gender x Time and Disaster Scenario Type x Time. Not all expectancies were fulfilled, however these findings are very preliminary and further inquiry could prove otherwise.

INTRODUCTION
In 1966, Julian Rotter developed a scale to measure personal perceived responsibility in events for one’s behavior. It is called ‘locus of control’ and is a continuum serving one end as internal, and the other end as external. Those whose score higher on the internal side would feel a stronger personal responsibility for events in their life. Those scoring higher on external tend to believe that forces beyond their control, such as fate, determine event outcomes (Phares, Ritchie, & Davis, 1968). It has been found that there are gender differences in locus of control. Males tend to be more internal than females in many studies (De Man, Simpson-Housley, Curtis, 1985). Disasters afflicting America are raising questions in responsibility and personal perceived control on many factors. It is estimated that two million American households experience damage to property and injuries every year from natural disasters. The risk of exposure for one to experience a natural disaster in their lifetime is significantly high (Sattler, Kaiser, & Hittner, 2000). With the rise in natural disasters in the media, let’s not forget man-made disasters such as terrorism as still a fear in the minds of Americans. Since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 there has been an interest on ways to control terrorism and better preparation for such events if they were to occur again (Haridakis & Rubin, 2005). To take action and be prepared to the best of one’s abilities with their resources could make a situation not nearly as devastating if one were to devise a plan of emergency preparedness. Scholars and officials are typical to assess that public education will result in more adaptive behavior when disaster strikes. Over time it is estimated that losses from disasters will be reduced. However research has shown that other variables actually influence disaster preparation. (Sorensen, 1983). Locus of control is a variable that does affect disaster preparedness and prevention. There have been numerous studies using locus of control as a measured variable to determine disaster preparedness and one’s perceived self attribution in such events. Internal locus of control has a significant positive correlation regarding concern for safety bias (Haridakis & Rubin, 2005). Knowledge of factors affecting an individual’s willingness to prepare themselves is actually very important in the design for communication and information to the public. Women have also been found to make fewer preparations than men, which displays an external locus of control for disaster variables in consideration. (Larrson & Enander, 1997).In a study on disaster preparation, researchers searched personal characteristics as a determining factor for preparing for hurricanes in South Carolina. One section of the survey included four locus of control items modified from Rotter, such as, “It is not always wise for me to plan too far ahead because many things turn out to be a matter of good or bad fortune.” If this statement were to be answered ‘true this does apply to me,’ then that would display an external locus of control. In the discussion of this study, it was found that internal locus of control did account for significance in a portion of preparation variance factors (Sattler, Kaiser, & Hittner, 2000).In a study done in California, researchers surveyed victims of wildfire, to see what their locus of control was to future fire hazard exposure. Victims of a fire were significantly more likely to blame the outcome due to luck, and less to their own efforts (Parker, Brewer, & Spencer, 1980). It has also been found that experiencing a hurricane may actually change one’s locus of control, such as an internal becoming an external (Sattler, Kaiser, & Hittner, 2000). This could possibly be due to victims finding it much easier to deal, with an external locus of control after the fact, because it might be easier to be in denial (Thurber, 1977). Another study in 2004 found measured behavior and attitude changes in students from September 11th tragedies, and found those students who exemplified internal locus of control were more likely to experience traumatic behavioral changes than those who showed an external locus of control (Seo, Blair, Mohammad, & Kaldahl, 2004).The purpose of this study is to see if students believe personal control is or is not possible in disastrous situations. Recent events such as Hurricane Katrina brings important questions in society, that we would like answers for- Can we be more responsible in disasters, or is it a pointless battle with other forces? I expected for more students to exemplify an internal locus of control in natural disaster scenarios. I anticipated there being a higher level of externals for the man-made disasters. I also expected to see a higher amount of external amongst male students versus female students.


METHOD
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PARTICIPANTS
Data were collected from 94 undergraduates enrolled in an Introductory Psychology course at a university in northwest Missouri. The participants consisted of 23 male students, and 71 female students.

MATERIALS
A survey was used with two-scenarios involving a natural disaster plot, and two scenarios involving man-made disaster plots. The recent natural disaster used was Hurricane Katrina, the older natural disaster used for the scenario was the Floods of ’93. The recent man-made disaster used for the plot was the September 11th attacks, and the older man-made disaster used was the Columbine attacks. After each plot there were five questions to measure the locus of control rating for each scenario. The questions to judge locus of control were based on Julian Rotter’s Social Reaction Inventory, I-E Scale (Rotter, 1966.)

PROCEDURE
Participants were handed surveys and instructed to read the plots and answer all items. They were given 15 minutes to complete the survey. When they were finished they handed in the survey and were rewarded bonus points for the class. Dependent Variables: Rating on locus of control scale measured on a scale based on Julian Rotter’s scale on locus of control and the other variable is the gender of participant.


RESULTS
A 2 x 2 x 2 mixed-design ANOVA was calculated to examine the effects of the Disaster Scenario Type (man-made and natural), Time (recent and older), and Gender on locus of control scores. A significant Time x Gender interaction was present (F (1, 92)) = .023, p < .05). The main effect for Time was significant (F (1,92) = 5.316, p < .05). A Time x Disaster Scenario Type interaction was also present (F (1, 92) = 7.628, p <.05). There was no main effect found for Gender (F (1,92) = 1.437, p > .05). There was no main effect found for Disaster Scenario Type (F (1,92) = 1.261, p > .05). No Gender x Disaster Scenario Type interaction was found (F (1,92) = .160, p > .05). There was no Time x Gender x Disaster Scenario Type found (F (1,92) = 2.537, p > .05). Recent Man Made Scenario Types were found to be more External. Females were more likely to be External for recent disaster versus older.


DISCUSSION
The results of this study were not exactly what I had expected. Time had a main effect on Gender and Type of Disaster. I put the Time variable in the survey to make it more valid, however I did not expect to find results such as this. I did expect to find more external ratings for man-made disasters. However, I found that for the female participants, more chose an external locus of control for recent disasters rather than older disasters. I think a plausible reason for this could easily be the fact that most of my participants were beginning college students. The age range would have been that of younger demographics (under 25 yrs) and possibly they do not have as strong of a memory for the older events if they were younger when the memories occurred. Or they simply do not connect a strong emotional tie to a more recent event because the memory has faded, and as mentioned afore, it is sometimes easier to become external after a disaster for coping. Also, it is interesting that male students did not exemplify a stronger external locus of control in this Time interaction, which is somewhat concurrent with my expected results of females being more external than males. An interesting finding was the Disaster Scenario Type x Time interaction of man-made recent events having more external responses. I think this ties to the Thurber study (1977) that victims find it much easier to deal, with an external locus of control after the fact, because it might be easier to be in denial. The reason I mention this is because my recent man-made event was the September 11th attacks. This is still an emotional bruise for most Americans, considering the extremity of the event. This is matching of my hypothesis for seeing a higher level of externals for man-made disasters, yet it did not show significance with the older man-made disasters. I had expected for students to show an internal locus of control for natural disasters, and what I found was that this was true, except females were more external in recent natural disasters also. I used Hurricane Katrina for my recent natural disasters, and possibly viewing it as an external, could make it easier to deal with, because like September 11th, this was an emotional disastrous event. There are several ways I would improve the design of this study if I were to conduct it again or suggest it for replication. One of the flaws in this study for instance, was the lower male participation level. Had there been more males, I believe the hypothesis of men being more external in both Disaster Scenario Types would have been significant . Another possible design flaw was the lack of time to have the students use the entire scale developed by Rotter, therefore the locus of control rating was measured by a five-item subscale under each scenario. In the future, I think it would be very interesting to replicate this study to see if there is in fact a Recency Effect on further studies, like shown in this. Also, using a more mature demographic base, where participants own homes, and valuable property come into play for disasters preparation. Studies in the future should also use a more accurately divided participant group of females and males. The possibility of creating disaster scenarios not based on actual events might create different results as well.


REFERENCES
De Man, A., Simpson-Housley, P. & Curtis, F. (1985). Assignment of responsibility and flood hazard in Catahoula County, Louisiana. Environment & Behavior, 17, 371-386.Haridakis, P. & Rubin, A. (2005). Third-person effects in the aftermath of terrorism. Mass Communication & Society, 8, 39-59.Larsson, G. & Enanderm, A. (1997). Preparing for disaster: public attitudes and actions. Disaster Prevention and Management, 6, 11-21.Parker, S., Brewer, M.. & Spencer, J. (1980). Natural disaster, perceived control, and attributions to fate. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 6, 454-459.Phares, E. Jerry, Ritchie, D. Elaine, & Davis, William L., (1968). Internal-external control and reaction to threat. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 4, 402-405.Rotter, J.B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs, 80, Whole 609.Sattler, D., Kaiser, C., & Hittner, J. (2000). Disaster preparedness: Relationships among prior experience, personal characteristics and distress. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 30, 1396-1421.Seo, D., Blair, E., Torabi, M. & Kaldahl, M. (2004). Lifestyle and perceptional changes among college students since September 11. American Journal of Health Studies, 19, 20-27.Sorensen, J. (1983). Knowing how to behave under the threat of disaster, can it be explained? Environment and Behavior, 15, 438-457Thurber, S. (1977). Natural disaster and the dimensionality of the I-E scale. The Journal of Social Psychology, 103, 159-160.


APPENDIX
Survey for Disaster Vs. Man-made Disaster & Locus of Control RatingRead the following scenarios, and answer the true or false questions to your best abilities. If you feel you are leaning towards the middle on a certain question, just choose the one that weighs stronger, even if it is slight. Please be honest, and remember your answers are completely anonymous. Thank you for your participation!

Gender: Male _____ Female _____Grade Level: _______________

Recent event Hurricane Katrina caused much disaster upon the citizens living in New Orleans, LA. Many lost their homes, had extensive damage to properties and lost businesses. However, many people had even worse situations. Some lost family members, or even their own lives with many spending several days homeless, with no food and nowhere to go. Hurricane warnings had urged residents to evacuate. Do you feel: 1. Preparation and planning for Hurricane Katrina would have minimized damage and loss. True False2. There is not much anyone could have done about it, it was going to be devastating because of something out of our control, such as fate. True False3. It is one’s personal responsibility in this situation to govern protective measures for themselves and their families. True False4. No matter how much preparation was done for Katrina, the victims were doomed. True False

The Floods of ’93 hit the Mid-West and caused 12 billion dollars in damages. It also struck the lives of 48 people with its destructive surge. Such an event causing the loss of homes and properties, as well as lives are extremely devastating. However, it is known that the Mid-West is prone to flooding. Do you feel:1. Preparation and planning for the Floods of ’93 would have minimized damage and loss. True False2. There is not much anyone could have done for the Floods, it was going to be devastating because of something out of our control, such as fate. True False3. It is one’s personal responsibility in this situation to govern protective measures for themselves and their families. True False4. No matter how much preparation was done for the Floods, the victims were doomed. True False5. A person can not do anything at all for protection when they do not have a lot of money. True False

The September 11, 2001 attacks were the first attacks on American soil. The tragic and unexpected loss of lives and the violation of trust left a scar on the history of America. Many people suffered emotional grief and anxiety from these events. Such a tragedy caused by human beings, to inflict harm upon other human beings was shocking.Do you feel: 1. Preparation and planning for the 9/11 attacks would have minimized loss of lives. True False2. There is not much anyone could have done about 9/11, it was going to be devastating because of something out of our control, such as fate. True False3. Trying to raise awareness and requesting to city or government officials for emergency preparation and planning could help prevent a situation like this. True False4. No matter how much preparation that could have been done for 9/11, the victims were unfortunately doomed. True False5. Such an event could have been prevented had the appropriate security measures been taken. True False

On April 20, 1999 at Columbine High School in Colorado, two teenage students carried out a shooting rampage killing 12 students, one teacher and wounding 24 others. Warning signs had been shown, since1996 when one of the assailants had created a website describing how to make explosives, which eventually led to a hit list. This attack created tremendous fear and anxiety across America, in students and in parents.Do you Feel: 1. Preparation and planning for attacks such as the Columbine attacks, could have minimized loss of lives. True False2. There is not much anyone could have done, it was going to be devastating because of something out of our control, such as fate. True False3. Trying to raise awareness and requesting to city, school, or government officials for emergency preparation and planning could help prevent a situation like this. True False4. No matter how much preparation could have been done, these victims were unfortunately doomed. True False5. Such an event could not have been prevented because these kids were out of control. True False

Submitted 12/19/2005 2:15:37 PM
Last Edited 12/19/2005 3:16:12 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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