Responding to natural disasters: Examining identity and prosociality in the context of a major earthquake

Alexander Maki, Patrick C. Dwyer, Susanne Blazek, Mark Snyder, Roberto González, Siugmin Lay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


How does a major natural disaster relate to individuals’ orientation towards society? We collected repeated cross-sectional surveys before (n = 644) and after the 2010 Chile earthquake (n = 1,389) to examine levels of national identity, prosocial values, helping motivations, and prosocial behaviours in the context of such a calamitous societal event. Our research questions, derived from the literature on helping in times of crisis, considered how natural disasters may implicate identity and prosociality, as well as how identity, prosocial values, and motivations are linked to prosocial action after a disaster. Higher levels of national identity, helping motivations, and disaster-related helping were found after the earthquake, suggesting that in the aftermath of a disaster, people unite under a common national identity and are motivated to take action related to disaster relief. National identity and prosocial values were closely linked to helping after the earthquake, but specific helping motivations rarely predicted prosocial behaviours. Additionally, proximity to the epicentre was related to higher levels of national identity and participation in reconstruction efforts. These findings contribute to our understanding of people's responses to natural disasters and suggest ways of encouraging prosocial behaviour in the aftermath of unexpected tragic events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)66-87
Number of pages22
JournalBritish Journal of Social Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by Becas Chile grant (72150139) administered by the National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT) awarded to Lay. This research was also supported by Centro de Medición MIDE UC, FONDECYT (1161371), Centre for Social Conflict and Cohesion Studies COES (FONDAP/15130009), Centre for Intercultural and Indigenous Research (CIIR) (FONDAP/15110006), and by the Center for the Study of the Individual and Society at the University of Minnesota.

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