After the disaster

Danny Osborne (School of Psychology, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand)
Chris G. Sibley (School of Psychology, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand)

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Publication date: 11 November 2013



The purpose of this paper is to examine individual differences in people's resilience to changes in psychological distress following the 22 February 2011 Christchurch earthquake.


Data were based on a subsample of the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS) – an annual nation-wide longitudinal study of New Zealand adults that began in 2009. In both waves of the NZAVS examined here, participants completed measures of the Big-Five, psychological distress, and demographic covariates. As such, the analyses, which focus on participants who were living in the Canterbury region before the 2011 earthquake (n=325), use measures of personality collected in late October of 2010 (Time 1) to predict changes in psychological distress after the devastation that unfolded on 22 February 2011.


Time 1 levels of Emotional Stability were inversely associated with increases in psychological distress following the 2011 earthquake. Psychological distress assessed at Time 1, however, was uncorrelated with changes in Emotional Stability.

Practical implications

These results show that Emotional Stability protects people against decrements to mental health following a disaster. Thus, efforts to rebuild disaster-stricken communities should ensure that those who are particularly likely to experience increases in psychological distress (i.e. those who, before a disaster, are low on Emotional Stability) receive the help they need.


This study assesses a subsample of respondents from a longitudinally based national probability study to show that Emotional Stability exerts a cross-lagged effect on changes in psychological distress following a natural disaster. The access to such measures affords us the rare opportunity to explain how people cope in the wake of a catastrophic disaster.



Data collection for the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS) was supported by the University of Auckland FRDF (3624435/9853) and ECREA (3626075) grants awarded to Chris G. Sibley.


Osborne, D. and G. Sibley, C. (2013), "After the disaster", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 22 No. 5, pp. 456-466.

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