A special issue of the New Zealand Journal of Psychology focuses on disasters and the Canterbury earthquakes

The New Zealand Psychological Society released a special journal issue featuring research and a range of professional experiences related to the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes in the Canterbury region.

New Zealand Psychological SocietyThe New Zealand Psychological Society has released a Special Issue of the New Zealand Journal of Psychology that presents research and a range of professional experiences related to the changing condition of the Canterbury's population in the aftermath of its 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

The Special Issue may be of interest to a wide audience as it brings together information on preparation for, survival of and recovery from the ongoing disaster affecting a tenth of New Zealand's population and a quarter of its economy. Pictures and commentaries help bring out the reality of what is being reported in each area. Other disaster settings offer lessons and methods. Data and analysis look at aspects of difficult decisions, such as how to communicate the little that is known, and of encouraging what can be done in future.

A Foreword and Editorial give more information on the purpose and scope of this collection of peer-reviewed science, professional experience and impressions from the field in a wide range of psychological matters: the responses of communities to the experience their members have been having; care for those who cope sometimes and not other times; identifying those who need special care; provisions made in education, health and the services to maintain capability for as long as it takes, keeping organizations going in the long, dark aftermath. We draw your attention to three papers:

  1. In "How Communities in Christchurch Have Been Coping with Their Earthquake," Libby Gawith of Christchurch focuses on the things Christchurch residents had to cope with on February 22, 2011, and how they were coping by the end of 2011. The changes and strains are reported frankly and with constructive suggestions for recovery from future disasters. This is a compilation of how ordinary people in the community coped, how things have changed, and what they have done to keep their communities functioning as the year has passed.

  2. In "New Zealanders' Judgments of Earthquake Risk Before and After the Canterbury Earthquake," John McClure and colleagues report on perceptions of risk and willingness to prepare for disasters in Christchurch, Wellington, and Palmerston North. Research shows that experience with disasters makes a difference in the willingness to prepare for them. They also report a change in peoplees views of the likelihood and risk of major earthquakes, which varied with their connection to people affected by the Canterbury shaking. Making preparations appears to reduce distress during disasters, so there is some evidence to support learning through the experience of others. Publicizing the benefits of preparedness does not seem to have the same impact in motivating readiness.

  3. In "The Communication of Uncertain Scientific Advice During Natural Hazard Events," Emma Doyle and colleagues report research into the public understanding of different phrasings of the probability of an event. How probability is expressed can influence understanding, affecting the choices people make and the actions they take. Interpretations may differ between scientists and non-scientists, and there seems a tendency in some people to believe an adverse event happened towards the end of a period of likelihood, rather than at random across the period. These interpretation biases have implications for how technical material should be reported, so that people can act in accordance with the risk. This journal is distributed digitally. You can obtain a PDF copy from the web portal. There are a limited number of bound copies available.

About the Society

The New Zealand Psychological Society is the largest professional association for psychologists in New Zealand. It has over 1000 members and aims to improve individual and community wellbeing by representing, promoting, and advancing the scientific discipline and practice of psychology. See the website for more information about the Society.


The Society has had considerable assistance from the University of Canterbury, Massey University, and their Joint Centre for Disaster Research (with GNS). Geoff Trotter, Tony Brunt and Ross Becker, photographers of Christchurch, have allowed us to use their images to help people understand the changes underway for Canterbury.

Special Issue Editors

Frank O'Connor, President, New Zealand Psychological Society 
Professor Ian M. Evans, Massey University, Wellington