Prior storm experience moderates water surge perception and risk

Webster, Gregory D., Agdas, Duzgun, Masters, Forrest J., Cook, Corey L., & Gesselman, Amanda N. (2013) Prior storm experience moderates water surge perception and risk. PLoS ONE, 8(5), e62477.

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How accurately do people perceive extreme water speeds and how does their perception affect perceived risk? Prior research has focused on the characteristics of moving water that can reduce human stability or balance. The current research presents the first experiment on people's perceptions of risk and moving water at different speeds and depths.


Using a randomized within-person 2 (water depth: 0.45, 0.90 m) ×3 (water speed: 0.4, 0.8, 1.2 m/s) experiment, we immersed 76 people in moving water and asked them to estimate water speed and the risk they felt.


Multilevel modeling showed that people increasingly overestimated water speeds as actual water speeds increased or as water depth increased. Water speed perceptions mediated the direct positive relationship between actual water speeds and perceptions of risk; the faster the moving water, the greater the perceived risk. Participants' prior experience with rip currents and tropical cyclones moderated the strength of the actual–perceived water speed relationship; consequently, mediation was stronger for people who had experienced no rip currents or fewer storms.


These findings provide a clearer understanding of water speed and risk perception, which may help communicate the risks associated with anticipated floods and tropical cyclones.

Impact and interest:

2 citations in Scopus
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1 citations in Web of Science®

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ID Code: 69811
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062477
ISSN: 1932-6203
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > PSYCHOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCES (170000) > COGNITIVE SCIENCE (170200) > Decision Making (170202)
Divisions: Current > Schools > School of Civil Engineering & Built Environment
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Science & Engineering Faculty
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2013 Webster et al.
Copyright Statement: This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Deposited On: 17 Apr 2014 04:12
Last Modified: 23 Apr 2014 07:25

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