Symbols of recovery : the impact of earthquake images on vigilance
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
This study explores the impact post-earthquake images from Christchurch, New Zealand inserted into a task requiring sustained attention or vigilance have on performance, selfreports of task-focus, and cerebra activity using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). The images represent the current state of Christchurch; a city struggling to recover from devastating earthquakes that peaked in February, 2011, killing 185 people, injuring hundreds more and causing widespread and massive damage to infrastructure, land and building in the region. Crowdsourcing was used to gather a series of positive and negative photos from greater Christchurch to be employed in the subsequent experiment. Seventy-one Christchurch resident participants (51 women, 20 men) then took part in a vigilance task with the sourced images embedded to assess possible cognitive disruptions. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: embedded positive pictures, embedded negative pictures, or embedded scrambled image controls. Task performance was assessed with signal detection theory metrics of sensitivity A’ and β’’. Individuals viewing the positive images, relating to progress, rebuild, or aesthetic aspects within the city, were overall more conservative or less willing to respond than those in the other conditions. In addition, positive condition individuals reported lower task focus, when compared to those in the control condition. However, indicators of cerebral activity (fNIRS) did not differ significantly between the experimental groups. These results combined, suggest that mind wandering events may be being generated when exposed to positive post-earthquake images. This finding fits with recent research which indicates that mind-wandering or day dreaming tends to be positive and future oriented. While positive recovery images may initiate internal thoughts, this could actually prove problematic in contexts in which external attention is required. While the actual environment, of course, needs to recover, support agencies may want to be careful with employing positive recovery imagery in contexts where people actually should be paying attention to something else, like operating a vehicle or machinery.