Psychology’s Kaniasty Presents Colloquium “Disasters or Social Catastrophes? On Social Psychological Reactions of Communities Coping With Natural and Human-Induced Disasters”

Posted on 4/29/2015 7:56:39 AM

Psychology’s Krys Kaniasty gave a colloquium at the Department of Psychology, Georgetown University (Washington, DC) on April 17, 2015. The major point of Kaniasty’s lecture was that maintaining strong social ties in the aftermath of disasters is just as important as rebuilding infrastructure to help people overcome traumatic events.

The capacity of a collective to triumph over shared adversities is based on maintaining and augmenting social cohesion, mutual social support, cooperation, and a sense of belonging to a valued social group and community. Empirical work with victims of various disasters strongly suggests that individuals’ functioning in the aftermath of potentially traumatic life events does not only depend on their own resources and losses, but on resources and losses of their community.

Many disasters initially mobilize affected communities into a heroic and altruistic struggle to fulfill the immediate needs, and to shield victims from an overwhelming sense of loss. This heroic stage, however, inevitably ceases and may not be sufficient to conquer slowly evolving deterioration of social relationships routinely experienced by postdisaster communities. Thus, in the long run, failure or success in coping with shared trauma depends to a large extent on social functioning.

One way of deterring lasting negative psychological consequences of disasters should be through protecting and maintaining communal resilience defined as an ability to deter insidious erosion of communal connections in the aftermath of collective upheavals.

Department of Psychology