Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining: How Residents in Flood-prone Areas in China Cope and Cultivate Community Resilience in the Post-Crisis Stage
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Background and Purpose. Catastrophic crises such as floods have resulted in millions of fatalities and tens of billions of dollars in direct economic losses annually worldwide throughout the twentieth century (Merz et al., 2021). Crises can create severe and widespread disruption, but successful communication may also act as a catalyst for constructive change in the post-crisis stage, as it fosters a shared understanding of the situation and provides protective action taking instructions (Liu et al., 2016; Sellnow & Seeger, 2021). The role of crisis communication in the post-crisis stage is insufficiently examined (Liu & Viens, 2020) despite the fact that many communities have the greatest need for support when the media spotlight and widespread public attention disappears. This dissertation emphasizes the notion of learning from crises in the post-crisis stage (Huber, 1991; Moynihan, 2009; Renå & Christensen, 2018) by examining individuals’ coping and their perceived community resilience in the post-crisis stage within a collectivistic and non-democratic context (i.e., mainland China).
Theoretical Frameworks. To understand how individuals adapt to emotionally charged situations like floods, this dissertation draws insights from the integrated crisis mapping model (i.e., ICM; Jin et al., 2012; Jin et al., 2016), the infectious disease threat appraisal model (i.e., IDT; Jin et al., 2020; Jin et al., 2021), emotional contagion theory (Barsade, 2002; Barsade et al., 2018), social appraisal theory (Manstead & Fischer, 2001; Parkinson, 2011; 2021), and identity-based emotions research (Mackie et al., 2008; Smith & Mackie, 2015; Tajfel & Turner, 1979; Turner et al., 1987) to explore how individuals’ appraisal of a crisis, susceptibility to emotional contagion (Doherty, 1997; Jin et al., 2020), and identification with their local communities influence individuals’ coping and perceived community resilience (the communities advancing resilience toolkit (CART) assessment; Kim et al., 2023; Pfefferbaum et al., 2013; Pfefferbaum et al., 2015).
Methods. As a country prone to flooding, China’s flood damage constitutes a significant portion of global flood losses (Ding et al., 2022; Guo et al., 2023; Qazlbash et al., 2021). Yet, no found crisis communication research provides evidence-based scientific guidance for individuals and social groups in flood-prone areas of China to recover and rebound. Thus, this dissertation explores how individuals cope and cultivate community resilience in the post-disaster recovery phase in the Lukou District, Zhuzhou City, Hunan Province of China. This dissertation deploys a self-report survey utilizing systematic cluster sampling to test the proposed model. Because the flood season in Hunan historically is from April to the beginning of September (Du et al., 2019; Hu et al., 2021; Zeng et al., 2021), the data collection started in mid-September 2022 and was completed by mid-October 2022 to capture residents’ post-flooding experiences. A total of 1,000 complete responses were collected. Because this dissertation’s proposed model includes latent factors, a two-phase modeling process (i.e., measurement and structural; Muller & Hancock, 2019) with maximal likelihood with robust standard error (MLR) estimation is adopted for analysis.
Results. The overarching idea delivered in this dissertation’s findings is that individual coping mechanisms (e.g., perceptions, affective experiences, and behavioral intentions) as adaptive and socially functional coping, further contribute to individuals’ perceived local community resilience.
Focusing on the adaptive perspective of individuals’ coping, this dissertation’s findings show that vulnerable individuals (e.g., those who perceive greater incurred damage and resource constraints) are more likely to experience negative emotions and less likely to engage in information seeking behaviors or take protective measures to recover from damage and prevent future threats in the post-crisis stage. This dissertation’s findings on the relationships between individuals’ crisis appraisals (e.g., perceived crisis predictability, controllability, and responsibility) and individuals’ affective experiences of emotions and behavioral intentions differ from previous research that focuses on the pre-crisis and crisis stages in Western contexts (e.g., Austin et al., 2021; Jin, 2010; Jin et al., 2020). Furthermore, this dissertation’s findings reveal that negative and positive emotions’ influences on individuals’ information seeking intentions, passive protective action taking intentions, and active protective action taking intentions are largely muted in the post-crisis stage within a collectivistic and non-democratic context.
Focusing on the socially functional perspective of individuals’ coping, this dissertation reveals that individuals’ perceived social support, feature-driven emotional contagion, meaning-driven emotional contagion, and ingroup identification influence individuals’ affective experiences of negative and positive emotions, information seeking intentions, passive protective action taking intentions, and active protective action taking intentions. Specifically, findings on perceived social support show that participants who perceived higher levels of social support are less likely to experience negative emotions about floods and more likely to have passive protective action taking intentions. Findings on feature-driven emotional contagion in public emergencies show that participants with higher tendencies of unconsciously capturing others’ emotional expressions are more likely to experience negative emotions about floods and have passive protective action taking intentions. Findings on meaning-driven emotional contagion in public emergencies show that participants with higher tendencies to capture others’ emotional expression by cognitively interpreting the crises are more likely to experience positive emotions about floods and have active protective action taking intentions. Findings on ingroup identifications show that participants’ identification with the local community contributes to their information seeking intentions, passive protective action taking intentions, and active protective action taking intentions.
For individuals’ perceived community resilience, this dissertation’s findings show that participants with higher information-seeking intentions and active protective action taking intentions were more likely to perceive greater community resilience. Whereas there is no found statistically significant relationship between participants’ passive protective action taking intentions and perceived community resilience.
Theoretical and Practical Implications. This dissertation’s findings contribute to crisis communication research and practices. This dissertation contributes to crisis communication research by examining individuals' coping in the post-crisis stage, extending existing crisis communication literature on emotion by integrating group-level factors (e.g., feature-driven emotional contagion, meaning-driven emotional contagion, and ingroup identification) and broadening previous crisis communication literature by studying a collectivistic and non-democratic context. This dissertation also advances crisis communication research on community resilience by tripling the explained variance of perceived community resilience (from 21% to 65%) and paving the way for future crisis communication research by providing measurement instructions with high reliability scores.
This dissertation also offers valuable insights for crisis communicators, enabling them to comprehend the intricate mechanisms of individuals' coping and community resilience in a collectivistic and non-democratic context. This dissertation's findings can assist crisis communicators in devising culturally sensitive messaging and recovery-focused intervention programs that cater to the needs of vulnerable groups while bolstering the community's overall capacity to rebound in the crisis recovery phase.