Bushfire readiness: why people who worry about fires can be the worst prepared

Stock image.
Stock image.

A UWA study has found that people who are anxious are worse off when it comes to being prepared for bushfires.

It said highly anxious people who were most likely to absorb bushfire information were the least likely to take action to prepare.

Dr Lies Notebaert led a team of researchers from the Centre for the Advancement of Research on Emotion at UWA’s School of Psychology that investigated the emotional and cognitive processes contributing to ill-preparedness for bushfires.

A total of 39 residents from the Kelmscott and Roleystone areas took part in the study.

“We recruited residents from the community on Perth’s urban-rural fringe and assessed how often they experienced anxiety and how much attention they paid to bushfire-related information using a computerised attentional bias task,” Dr Notebaert said.

“We also used a new bushfire preparedness measure developed by colleagues within the School of Psychology at UWA, which meant that for the first time individuals’ level of bushfire preparedness could be properly assessed.”

Dr Notebaert said previous research had shown that people who became anxious more frequently tend to be less prepared for natural disasters.

“We wanted to examine whether paying more attention to bushfire-related information would allow anxious individuals to overcome this ill-preparedness, or whether it exacerbated it,” she said.

The findings showed that paying more attention to bushfire-|related information had a detrimental effect on preparedness in highly anxious individuals, but a beneficial effect on individuals who were not anxious.

Dr Notebaert said the research had important implications for those involved in helping the community prepare for bushfires.

“Now we need to find out what the link is between anxiety, attention to threat and preparedness,” she said.

“Perhaps it has to do with how these individuals cope with problems. Less anxious individuals may be more likely to tackle a problem head on, rather than stick their head in the sand.”