Disaster-Related Cognitive Science

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Cognition naturally affects human behavior in any situation surrounding a disaster. In this research field, we conduct basic research on the cognitive processes underlying human perception of and behavior in complex physical and social environments. We apply the outcome of such research to developing systems for disaster prevention, mitigation, and restoration that are friendlier to human’s cognitive mechanisms.
Our basic research uses multiple techniques from psychology, cognitive science, and brain science. It investigates the characteristics and mechanisms of cognitive processes in which one's decisions and behavior are determined by the integration of multiple factors. These factors may include the form and content of information, the context of that information’s perception, the perceiver's knowledge, feelings, expectations, and recognition of the self / society.
Our application studies exploit the outcomes of the basic research. These studies propose and empirically evaluate a new education / training program for disaster prevention, systems for disaster information transmission and emergency response, and city planning policies and reconstruction process, based on the evidence we obtain from cognitive science.
The current main research topics are as follows.
(1) Cognitive neuroscience of power to survive a disaster
     This project attempts to understand, in neuroscientific terms, the individual difference in power to survive disasters: namely, personality, way of thinking, and daily habits that contributed to the successful emergency evacuation and managing difficulties after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Seventy-eight survivors told their experience of the disaster and gave their opinions on the power to survive; it was identified that different types of power to survive contributed in the immediate aftermath (i.e., emergency evacuation) and in the late aftermath (e.g., reconstruction). We then summarized the opinions into a questionnaire and asked 3,600 survivors to reply. As a result of the factor analysis of the data from approximately 1,400 respondents, the following eight factors were identified: 1) power to gather people, 2) power to tackle problems, 3) power to care about others, 4) power to stick to one’s beliefs, 5) power to stay calm, 6) power to maintain good etiquette, 7) realizing the meaning of life, and 8) power to live life to the fullest. We are now investigating the neural substrate of each factor with an eye for exploiting the findings for new protocols of disaster prevention, mitigation, and reconstruction.
Figure 1.  Interview
Figure 2.  Questionnaire
Figure 3.  Eight factors of the power to survive
(2) Developing a disaster simulation game book
     We have developed new disaster educational tools such as game-book. Our goal is to increase disaster knowledge and abilities to cope with various problems related to disasters through disaster education.
In this game, people are asked to play central character and to decide a behavior in various disaster situations. The main feature of the game is that story is changed based on the chosen decisions.
Disaster education using the disaster simulation game book led to improve self-coping skills for disaster situations.  We have provided disaster education using the game. In the future, we will provide the disaster education from children to older people.
Figure 4.  Outline of the disaster simulation game book
Figure 5.  Disaster education using the disaster simulation game book for junior high school students
Figure 6.  Improvements of coping skill in disaster situations