3.2 The Proof Is in the Picture: Exploring the Influence of Visual Type on Hurricane Risk Perception

Tuesday, 12 January 2016: 8:45 AM
Room 333-334 ( New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center)
Gina M. Eosco, Eastern Reseach Group, Arlington, VA; and L. Rickard and C. Scherer

Whether a photograph, computer graphic, or radar image, visual representations of severe weather range from the “iconic” to the “indexical” (Messaris, 1997). Whereas iconic visuals, such as maps, serve as an analogy between an object and its signifier, indexical visual representations, such as photographs, are considered physical traces: “proof” that some object exists. Past research suggests that iconic visuals implicitly convey uncertainty, including in relation to the timing of the event, the amount of risk to a location, or if the event will occur. Indexical visuals, on the other hand, tend to prompt increased certainty and perceived risk. In the case of severe weather, however, providing indexical images may be impossible, as often these events have yet to occur. Building on this foundation, the present study explores the influence of visual type on perceived risk related to a hurricane forecast. In a between-subjects factorial design, we present residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut (N = 1,052) with a forecast describing hypothetical Hurricane Pat accompanied by either a map showing predicted storm surge amounts, a photograph of storm surge impacting a neighborhood, or no visual. In addition, half of the forecasts contained information characterizing evacuation decision-making as a shared responsibility between forecasters, emergency personnel, and individual citizens. Results suggest that the condition with a photo but without shared responsibility information elicited the most concern about storm surge. Moreover, when predicting risk judgment, experimental condition, perceptions of the visual (e.g., its believability), and individual characteristics (i.e., education, number of children at home) were significant predictors, whereas past experience with hurricanes was not. Theoretical and practical implications will be presented.
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