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Why did they "choose" to stay? Perspectives of Hurricane Katrina observers and survivors, Psychological Science


Models of agency powerful implicit assumptions about what constitutes normatively good actions shaped how observers and survivors made meaning after Hurricane Katrina. Study 1 analyzes how 461 observers perceived survivors who evacuated (Leavers) or stayed (Stayers) in New Orleans. Observers described Leavers positively as agentic, independent, and in control and Stayers negatively as passive and lacking agency. Observers' perceptions reflected the disjoint model of agency, prevalent in middle-class. White contexts, which defines good actions as those that emanate from within the individual and proactively influence the environment. Study 2 examines interviews with 79 survivors, revealing that Leavers and Stayers relied upon divergent models of agency. Leavers emphasized independence, choice, and control, whereas Stayers emphasized interdependence, strength, and faith. Although both Leavers and Stayers exercised agency, observers failed to recognize Stayer's agency and derogated them because observers assumed that being independent and in control was the only way to be agentic.




Nicole Stephens, MarYam Hamedani, Hazel Rose Markus, Hilary Bergsieker, Liyam Eloul

Date Published



Stephens, Nicole, MarYam Hamedani, Hazel Rose Markus, Hilary Bergsieker, and Liyam Eloul. 2009. Why did they "choose" to stay? Perspectives of Hurricane Katrina observers and survivors. Psychological Science.(7): 878-886.


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