Citizens’ Emotional and Cognitive Responses to Focusing Events – An Experimental Study

November 2015 (VOL. 33, NO. 3)

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Focusing events, i.e. crises and catastrophes, provide an opportunity for political change, learning and evaluation of governmental performance. Likewise, it is essential that citizens trust that their society can provide credence towards managing these situations. This study tests, in a controlled laboratory experiment, in what manner the origin (man-made versus natural disasters) and strength of focusing events affect the emotional and cognitive reactions of citizens. We used a 2-x-2 basic factorial design with post-test-only between-groups comparisons testing self-reported emotions, psychophysiological and cognitive reactions among the test subjects (N = 30) to four different focusing events. Our findings show that an event with a stronger degree of focus brings about more emotional and cognitive reactions than an event with a weaker degree of focus, although only among events originating from man. Also, events originating from man caused stronger reactions than those originating from nature, albeit only among events with a strong degree of focus.