Optimism, pessimism, and communication behavior in response to an earthquake prediction

L. Erwin Atwood, Ann M. Major

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


This analysis examines the public response to the 1990 Iben Browning earthquake prediction within the framework of social comparisons theory, which provides a context for examining people's beliefs about their own vulnerability compared with their beliefs about the vulnerability of most other people. Social comparisons do influence people's response to threat. Pessimistic respondents believed they were at greater risk than others and were more likely to believe the prediction. Optimistic respondents were less likely than pessimists to seek information, and their lack of information about the risk may have led to denial of the threat. When beliefs about vulnerability were compared in terms of death, serious injury, and property damage, only 57 percent of the respondents fell into the same grouping of optimist, pessimist, and realist in both analyses. These shifts in group membership provide support for the assertion that beliefs about vulnerability change in response to situational contingencies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)417-431
Number of pages15
JournalPublic Understanding of Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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