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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

I can still see, hear and smell the fire: Cognitive, emotional and personal consequences of a natural disaster, and the impact of evacuation

Knez, Igor; Willander, Johan; Butler, Andrew; Sang, Asa Ode; Sarlov-Herlin, Ingrid; Akerskog, Ann


We investigated the effects of evacuation experience on autobiographical memory, sensory-perceptual re-experiencing, emotions, and personal consequentiality of a natural disaster one year after. A total of 601 individuals participated, living nearby the area of the largest fire in modern times in Sweden. It was shown that evacuated (first-hand experience) compared to not-evacuated (second-hand experience) participants thought and talked more about the fire. Evacuated residents also mentally traveled back and re-lived the disaster more; as well as saw the fire, heard its sound, smelled it more, and felt more anxious, enraged, and emotionally strong. Moreover, evacuated compared to not-evacuated participants estimated that their life and view of the world had changed due to the natural disaster. All this suggests that the psychology of dramatically charged events, such as natural disasters, differs notably between individuals ?being there? and those ?hearing the news?, indicating a factual flashbulb memory as a result of the first-hand experience.


Natural disaster; Autobiographical memory; Flashbulb memory; Sensory-perceptual re-experiencing; Emotions; Personal consequentiality; Evacuation

Published in

Journal of Environmental Psychology
2021, Volume: 74, article number: 101554