Why did they "choose" to stay? Perspectives of Hurricane Katrina observers and survivors

Psychol Sci. 2009 Jul;20(7):878-86. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02386.x. Epub 2009 Jun 16.


Models of agency--powerful implicit assumptions about what constitutes normatively "good" action--shaped how observers and survivors made meaning after Hurricane Katrina. In Study 1, we analyzed how 461 observers perceived survivors who evacuated (leavers) or stayed (stayers) in New Orleans. Observers described leavers positively (as agentic, independent, and in control) and stayers negatively (as passive and lacking agency). Observers' perceptions reflected the disjoint model of agency, which is prevalent in middle-class White contexts and defines "good" actions as those that emanate from within the individual and proactively influence the environment. In Study 2, we examined interviews with 79 survivors and found that leavers and stayers relied on divergent models of agency. Leavers emphasized independence, choice, and control, whereas stayers emphasized interdependence, strength, and faith. Although both leavers and stayers exercised agency, observers failed to recognize stayers' agency and derogated them because observers assumed that being independent and in control was the only way to be agentic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Cyclonic Storms / statistics & numerical data*
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • New Orleans
  • Racial Groups / psychology
  • Racial Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Social Class
  • Social Perception*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Students / psychology
  • Survivors / psychology*
  • Survivors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult