Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations

Understanding Factors Related to Surviving a Disaster: The Survival Attitude Scale

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Catheine Stein (Committee Member)

Second Advisor

Alfred DeMaris (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Dale Klopfer (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

William O’Brien (Committee Member)


Survivor characteristics, including psychological attributes that may increase an individual's chances of survival, have been the subject of various disaster response theories and have received attention in many survival handbooks. The present study examines psychological characteristics that have been attributed to an increased probability of survival during an active crisis event using a sample of 401 adults living in the United States. Existing literature on the psychology of survival from a variety of disciplines was used to develop a 15 item self-report measure of survival attitude, the Survival Attitude Scale (SAS), and to examine its psychometric properties and psychological and behavioral correlates. The SAS yields three dimensions of survival attitude (confidence in response, relinquishing control to others, and self-preservation). It also evidences acceptable reliability and construct validity when compared to measures of decision-making, reaction to threat, self-reported optimism, self-esteem and social desirability. To establish criterion validity for the measure, participants' scores on the SAS were compared to overall performance on a short vignette depicting an active shooter situation on a university campus. In predicting scores on the Survival Response Strategies Vignette, scores on the SAS contributed to between 2% and 6% of the variation in survival response strategy scores beyond that of demographic factors (age, gender, religious affiliation), previous disaster experience, and scores on measures of decision-making ability, previous trauma, and personality characteristics. Scores on the SAS and the Connor-Davidson Resilience scale were moderately positively correlated, but overall, SAS scores were better predictors of scores on a vignette of survival response strategies than were scores on the Connor-Davidson Resilience scale. Although preliminary, present findings provide insights into relevant factors related to survival response strategies for future research, including decision making, personality variables, and survival attitude, which may be useful in training citizens, first responders, and military personnel in survival response during an emergency.