Stanford GSB Study Says Fun Helps Dealing With Disaster

Stanford GSB Study

Stanford’s Graduate School of Business recently published a behavioral study about how having fun is a simple and surprisingly effective tactic victims use to cope in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Co-author and Stanford GSB marketing professor Baba Shiv says, “Having fun has a special role in alleviating the negative psychological impact of disaster” while “blanket media coverage and incessant checking of news sites can make people more fearful.”

Shiv, along with fellow Stanford colleague Jayson Jia, Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Jianmin Jia and the Booth professor Christopher K. Hsee have prepared the study, “The Role of Hedonic Behavior in Reducing Perceived Risk: Evidence from Post-Earthquake Mobile App Data,” scheduled for publication in Psychological Science.

The researchers surveyed nearly 160,000 Sichuan residents in China about their smartphone habits three months following the devastating 7.0 earthquake of 2013. It’s not surprising they found that “online games, shopping, and music reduced anxiety” but the degree to which fun played a role in weathering the post-disaster trauma.

Researchers reviewed “voice calls, text activity, web browsing and mobile apps” to investigate “what apps people were using before and after the earthquake.”

The smartphone data also gave researchers a fairly accurate image of the users’ location in relation to the earthquake. According to the study, survivors who found themselves in close proximity to the most severe quake upped their mobile phone usage for the next three weeks.

The study’s findings correlate with a 2005 research paper that reviewed the coping strategies of Americans post Sep. 11, 2001 in which “people reported increases in overeating and going off diets, drinking, smoking, time spent with family and friends, shopping and church attendance.”

The hope is this discovery will inspire “public health officials to rethink post-disaster strategies.” Shiv elaborates, “We witnessed an entire population engage in psychologically adaptive activities that reduced their perceived risk. The challenge is to also get the people who didn’t engage in as many hedonic activities to do so.”


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