Human Responses to Disasters: A Pilot Study on Peritraumatic Emotional and Cognitive Processing


  • Anna Grimm
  • Lynn Hulse
  • Silke Schmidt


This research article presents the qualitative development and cross-cultural pilot testing of a new instrument measuring emotional and cognitive processing during disasters. The instrument was developed according to a theoretical framework based on narratives from survivors of different types of disaster across Europe. Peritraumatic emotions and cognitions were assessed at three different stages of a disaster. The pilot study consisted of 311 participants responding to the questionnaire using scenario versions of disasters as well as 25 survivors working through the questionnaire using their experiences of real disasters. Both types of analysis were performed across seven countries. Differences in emotions and cognitions during the course of a disaster were displayed. Also, gender, the type of scenario participants were allocated to, and professional experience of emergencies led to differences in item response. As there was little difference between survivors’ and scenario participants’ responses, the use of a scenario in order to test pilot forms of questionnaires for purposive samples with certain characteristics such as limited sizes or access can be supported. For future research, the instrument should be field tested. It is envisaged it will be beneficial for a cross-cultural understanding of the influence of peritraumatic emotions and cognitions not only on posttraumatic psychological outcomes but also on related behavioural responses displayed during disasters.