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Self-esteem and Sense of Mastery
Influencing Disaster Preparedness Behaviour

The Australasian Journal of Disaster
and Trauma Studies
ISSN:  1174-4707
Volume : 2011-1

Self-esteem and Sense of Mastery
Influencing Disaster Preparedness Behaviour

Dr Sasmita Mishra, KIIT School of Management, KIIT University, Bhubaneswar, Orissa, India . Email:  sasmitamishra_iitkgp@yahoo.co.in
Damodar Suar, Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, West Bengal, India
Douglas Paton, School of Psychology, University of Tasmania, Australia

Keywords: Self-esteem, sense of mastery, communal mastery, disaster preparedness

Dr Sasmita Mishra

KIIT School of Management
KIIT University, Bhubaneswar
Orissa, India

Damodar Suar

Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur
West Bengal

Douglas Paton

School of Psychology,
University of Tasmania,


This study examines whether self-esteem and sense of mastery influence preparedness behaviour. Data were collected from 300 people each of flood prone and heat wave affected areas in Orissa. Results revealed that when the confounding effects of age and family type were controlled, people having high self-esteem and sense of mastery were more prepared for flood and heat wave. The results confirm the assumptions of ‘resource conservation’ theory that the important psychological resources like sense of mastery and self-esteem facilitate disaster preparedness. Hence, government officials and agencies responsible for community preparedness may take additional effort to enhance self-esteem and mastery of the people.

Self-esteem and Sense of Mastery
Influencing Disaster Preparedness Behaviour

Floods in India account for more than half the total number of floods occurring in Asia each decade (Persuraman & Unnikrishnan, 2000). Floods frequently hit the coastal districts of Orissa (India), with significant floods occurring there in 2001 2003, and 2008 (www.osdma.org). India also experiences significant losses from heat waves (Sinha Ray, Mukhopadhyay, & De, 1999), with the states of Bihar, Orissa, Punjab, parts of Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh being affected regularly by heat waves in the years succeeding El-Nino events (Deshmukhe, Ramamoorthy, & Sengupta, 2000). In Orissa, heat wave conditions peak annually during the months of April to mid-June. Some 2,000 people died of heat stroke in 1998 (www.osdma.org).

Given the regularity, intensity and impact of the losses associated with these hazards, there are strong grounds for investigating factors that influence the preparedness of residents of flood prone and heat wave affected areas in Orissa.

Disaster preparedness describes the self-protective or precautionary behaviours that can be harnessed to protect from hazard events threatening one’s life and property (Duval & Mulilis, 1999; Hobfoll, 1988; Paton, Smith & Johnston, 2005). These authors have identified how dispositional or personality factors play pivotal roles in this decision making process. It can thus be argued that certain internal traits, values, beliefs, cognitive processes, and defences (e.g., sense of community, personal responsibility) play a role in how human-environment transactions are managed (Bishop, Paton, Syme, & Nancarrow, 2000; Mulilis, Duval, & Rombach, 2001; Sims & Bauman, 1983). Human-environment transactions are often motivated by a need for people to feel that they can exercise control. Consequently, a belief in being able to exercise control has proven to have significant influence on people’s hazard resilience. The constructs of locus of control and self-efficacy have thus been implicated as predictors of preparedness (Bauman & Sims, 1972, 1978; Paton et al., 2005; Yates, Axsom, & Tiedeman, 1999). These are not the only dispositional characteristics that can be invoked to account for differences in preparedness. This paper examines the potential of two other psychological and community characteristics, self-esteem and sense of mastery (Hobfoll & Lilly, 1993), to influence preparedness behaviour.

The paper also considers the need to accommodate hazard characteristics when selecting measures. For example, protective measures for heat waves involve personal actions. In contrast, protection for floods involves a mix of personal and collective (e.g., community support for levees) actions. However, evidence suggests that age and family type also influence disaster preparedness (Mishra & Suar, 2005). Because these latter factors could be hypothesised to influence levels of the variables of interest in this paper (e.g., the increase in experience that comes with age could influence levels of mastery), the hypotheses will be tested controlling the confounding effects of age and family type on disaster preparedness in the context of flood and heat wave hazards.


Self-esteem is a favourable or unfavourable attitude toward the self (Rosenberg's, 1965). It is an individual's sense of his/her value or worth, or the extent to which a person values, approves of, appreciates, prizes, or likes himself/herself (Blascovich & Tomaka, 1991). According to Hobfoll and Lilly (1993), self-esteem, being a robust resource, is resilient to threat of loss. Those who have built a stronger armamentarium of personal, social, economic and other sustaining resources will be better suited to adapt to possible dangers by building on their already durable resource reserves in a proactive fashion (Updegraff & Taylor, 2000). Thus, people armed with a robust resource like self-esteem would show greater preparedness before the disaster strikes.

H 1: More the self-esteem of the people, the more will be their preparedness behaviour.

Individual/Communal mastery

When individuals use their skills, talents and abilities effectively, the inevitable result is a feeling of mastery (individual mastery). Such feelings are incompatible with feelings of helplessness, anger, fear and depression (Pearlin & Schooler, 1978). Mastery leads to a sense of increased confidence, which allows us to move forward, to progress. Mastery provides a measure of control over our current circumstances. This cognitive resource provides input to evaluate critical situations like impending disaster and show effective self-protective behaviours. Moreover, conservation of resource theory (Hobfoll & Lilly, 1993) justifies sense of mastery as the management resource that regulates the use and flow of other resources. Hence, people having mastery may develop greater response efficacy. With that efficacy, the person can find out and explore time, resource, skills and social networks for adoption of precautionary behaviour. Because response efficacy creates motivation to act (Ajzen, 1991; Lindell & Whitney, 2000; Paton, 2008), people with individual mastery will be more prepared to disasters. Individual mastery is applicable in such disasters where individualistic effort is required for preparedness.

Where the characteristics of the hazard call for collective efforts to prepare, communal mastery is necessary. Communal mastery refers to generalized sense that individuals can overcome life challenges and stresses because they are a part of a tightly interwoven social structure (Hobfoll, Schroerder, Wells, & Malek, 2002). Hobfoll and colleagues (2002) draw a clear distinction between social support from communal mastery. Social support refers to the receipt of support (either tangible or emotional) from others or the belief that such support would be available should the need arise and it is requested. By way of contrast, communal mastery does not necessarily involve either request for or receipt of support. Rather, it is a generalized sense that being a part of a closely-knit group in itself generates successful confrontation to stressors. Hence, it can be hypothesised that people having communal mastery also will be prepared for a disaster that calls for collective action.

H 2: More the individual/communal mastery of the people, more will be their preparedness behaviour.



The survey was conducted in areas declared as flood-prone by Government of Orissa - Khurda, Puri, Cuttack, Bhadrak, Balasore, Jagatsighpur, and Kendrapara districts (www.osdma.org), in the month of July, before the onset of disaster season. On reaching the flood prone village, first the village head was contacted and briefed about the purpose of the study, and his/her consent sought and obtained. In heat wave preparedness study, the residents of Bhubaneswar and Titlagarh cities participated as the places were susceptible to high mercury level in every summer season and were affected by heat wave in recent past. Depending on the total number of households in each sahi (or colony of households) and information about the residents, some households were selected. Of a total of 600 questionnaires given to households in each hazard context, 300 completely filled-in questionnaires from each context were collected by the researcher after a fortnight.

Printed questionnaires were delivered to these households and collected two weeks later. One adult member (18 years of age or above) from each household was expected to complete the survey. In case of illiterate respondents, a literate family or community member (not participating in the study) read the questionnaire and noted the responses. Respondents were briefed about the purpose of the study, informed that their responses would be used for research purpose only, and assured that their individual responses would be kept confidential.

The respondents from both flood and heat wave affected areas were predominantly males, literate, most of them were in economically productive age groups, from general castes and from joint and extended families. The years of stay in the community were more than years of stay in own/rented houses. In the flood sample, almost half of the surveyed families were from low-income groups and were in their own houses. Contrarily, heat wave samples were taken from the cities where such disasters occurred in past, and therefore, more than half of the families had high income and were in rented houses (Table 1).

Table 1: Sample Profile



Flood preparedness

Heat wave preparedness


18-35 (%)






56 +




Male (%)






Family type

Nuclear (%)










General caste (%)



Other backward caste



Scheduled tribe



Scheduled caste




Literate (%)







Own (%)






Annual Income (in Indian Rupees)

Low: < 5000 (%)



Middle: 6,000-20,000



High: 20,000 +



Years of stay

In community



In house




With the collection of demographic and socio-economic information on age, sex, education, caste, family types and income; measures on preparedness, self-esteem, sense of mastery, and communal mastery were taken. The questions were initially written in English. To administer these in vernacular language, the items were translated into Oriya. To ensure the validity of Oriya translation, dual-language experts translated the items back into English.

Self-esteem Scale. In both flood and heat wave studies, the ten-item Rosenberg’s (1989) global self-esteem scale was used. The scale was a unidimensional measure of self-esteem. Items were related to overall feelings of self-worth/self-acceptance. The response descriptions against each item were on a five-point scale, ranging from ‘strongly agree’ (score = 5) to ‘strongly disagree’ (score = 1). Sample items include, “I take a positive attitude towards myself” and “ I think at times I am not good at all (negatively keyed)”. When the scores on the items were factor analysed, one usable factor explained 52.47% of total variance in flood sample (alpha = 0.90) and 50.61% of total variance (alpha = 0.89) in heat wave sample. High scores indicated high self-esteem.

Individual Mastery Scale. Mastery is the extent to which one regards one's life-chances as being under one's own control in contrast to being fatalistically ruled. Pearlin and Schooler’s (1978) 7-item mastery scale was used for heat wave sample. The response descriptions against each item ranged from ‘strongly agree’ (score = 4) to ‘strongly disagree’ (score = 1). Five items were negatively keyed and the rest were positively keyed. Sample items include, “I have little control over the things that happen to me” and “I can do just about everything I set my mind to do (positively keyed)”. The factor analysis on scores of the items extracted one usable factor that explained 58.59% of the total variance (alpha = 0.88). High scores indicated high mastery.

Communal Mastery Scale. A 10-item communal mastery scale (Hobfoll, Schroerder, Wells, & Malek, 2002) was used in case of flood sample. Sample items include, “By joining with friends and family, I have a great deal of control over the things that happen to me” and “There is little I can do to change many of the important things in my life, even with the help of my family and friends (negatively keyed)”. Responses against each item were on a 4-point scale ranging from ‘strongly disagree’ (score = 1) to ‘strongly agree’ (score = 4). When the scores on the scale were factor analysed, one usable factor explained 50.26% of total variance (alpha =0.88). High scores indicated high communal mastery.

Preparedness. To measure flood and heat wave preparedness, two different 25-item scales were prepared for flood and heat wave preparedness in the pattern of Mulilis Lippa Earthquake Preparedness Scale (Mulilis, Duval, & Lippa, 1990). The scale items were culled from all standard suggestions appearing in flood preparedness brochures and web pages (see bibliography for a list of sources from which the items were collected). Three experts in disaster research judged the items. Twenty items on each preparedness measure agreed by them were retained for the final study.

(a) Flood preparedness. The 20-item flood preparedness scale measured the extent to which a person was prepared for floods and how difficult the person perceived preparing for floods. Sample instructions and items include, “Do you keep the following things ready before flood season?”: “make the radio sets fully serviceable”; “keep torch lights and candles ready”; and “do you know any shelter house nearby?” Respondents were asked to indicate the extent of preparedness with regard to each item in the scale by checking either ‘yes’ (score = 3), ‘unsure’ (score = 2), or ‘no’ (score = 1). Each item score correlated positively and very significantly with the total item score. The correlation ranged from as low as 0.25, p < .001 to as high as 0.64. Thus, the items had high internal consistency. Respondents were asked to rate the difficulty of preparing for each item on a 5-point scale ranging from ‘not at all difficult’ (score = 1) to ‘extremely difficult’ (score = 5). The total score of difficulty had high negative correlation with total score of preparedness ( r = -0.76, p < .001). When people faced or experienced more difficulty in preparing for flood, they were less prepared. This implied high convergent validity for the scale. The face validity was very high because the items were drawn from the guidelines published by government and non-governmental organizations. Reliability coefficients on the current sample were high for preparedness items (alpha = 0.80) and perceived difficulty (alpha = 0.76) measures.

(b) Heat wave preparedness. The 20-item heat wave preparedness scale measured the extent of preparedness for heat wave and perceived difficulty while preparing for the same. Sample instructions and items include, “Do you keep the following things ready before summer season?: “fridge or mud pot to store cold water”; “hang seetal pati (specially made curtain) to prevent your house from heat”; and “do you listen to the government heat wave warning?” The scale items were culled from authentic sources and had high face validity. The highest item to total correlation was 0.61 and the lowest was 0.33, p < .001. When people perceived more difficulty for the measures of heat wave, they were less prepared ( r = -0.79, p < .000). This entailed the convergent validity. The reliability on the current sample was high for heat wave preparedness (alpha = 0.75) and perceived difficulty (alpha = 0.76) measures.


Descriptive statistics and correlations of variables used in the study are given below (Table 2). The reported age, self-esteem, individual mastery, communal mastery and preparedness data were in metric scale and family types were treated as dummy variables (presence of a family type = 1, otherwise = 0). The correlation matrix indicated that people of old age, from joint families, having more self-esteem and communal mastery were more prepared for the flood. In case of heat wave sample, people from extended families, having more self-esteem and individual mastery were more prepared. In heat wave context, people from nuclear families were less prepared for the disaster. In both the cases, people with more self-esteem and sense of mastery were more prepared for the disasters.

Table 2 : Descriptive Statistics and Inter-correlation Between Studied Variables.










1. Age





.18 **

.15 *

.15 **

-.16 **

2. Nuclear Family



-.64 ***

-.34 ***





3. Joint Family


-.85 ***


-.51 ***



.23 ***

-.26 ***

4. Extended Family


-.29 ***

-.27 ***




-.27 ***

.24 ***

5. Self-Esteem (SE)



-.13 *



.15 **

.16 **

-.18 **

6. Individual/Communal mastery

.13 *




.28 ***


.15 **

-.21 ***



-.13 *


.19 ***

.15 **

.40 ***


-.76 ***

8. Difficulty




-.19 **

-.13 *

-.29 ***

-.78 ***











Heat wave









Note. The correlations above the diagonal are in the context of flood and below the diagonal are in the context of heat wave.
* p < .05. ** p < .01. *** p < .001

As age and family were found to influence preparedness behaviour (Mishra & Suar, 2004), these variables were entered in the first step of regression analysis. As mentioned earlier, family types were dummy variables with joint family as the reference group in the flood context. Elderly people were more prepared for the flood and extended families were less prepared for flood than the joint families. In case of heat wave preparedness, age did not predict preparedness. With nuclear family as the reference group, the extended families were found to be more prepared than the nuclear ones.

The effects of age and family type were controlled in the regression analysis (Table 3). In case of heat wave, self-esteem and individual mastery correlated significantly and we suspected multicolinearity between them. So also was in case of flood sample where self-esteem related to communal mastery. Hence, self-esteem and sense of mastery were entered separately in the second step of regression analysis.

Intrapersonal resources helped people to cope proactively. In case of flood preparedness, high level of self-esteem and communal mastery of people increased their preparedness. Self-esteem explained additional 2 % variances of flood preparedness beyond the effects of age and family type. Similarly, communal mastery explained 2% additional variance of preparedness.

People having more self-esteem and individual mastery were more prepared for heat wave. Excluding the effects of age and family type, self-esteem explained additional 2% variances of heat wave preparedness. Similarly, individual mastery explained additional 16% variances. These results supported the hypotheses 1 and 2.

Table 3 : Self-esteem and Sense of Mastery Predicting Preparedness Behaviour









F change

Flood preparedness

Step 1

Nuclear Family
Extended Family



.15 **
-.31 ***


11.78 ***



Step 2




.12 *


10.21 ***


5.01 *

Step 2

Communal mastery



.13 *


10.27 ***


5.22 *

Heat wave preparedness

Step 1

Joint Family
Extended Family



.21 ***


4.46 **



Step 2




.15 *


5.08 **


6.70 *

Step 2

Individual mastery



.40 ***


18.82 ***


59.27 ***

a B = Beta, SE = Standard error of beta, B = Standardized beta.
b In the first step, F value is against 2, 297 df, and in the second step against 3, 296 df.
* p <.05. ** p <.01.*** p <.001.


The main objective of the study was to test whether self-esteem and sense of mastery influence preparedness behaviour. One of the findings of the study that people having self-esteem were more prepared for flood and heat wave is in line with the earlier findings that high SE individuals are generally motivated to enhance their self-image and perceptions of success, whereas low SE individuals are more cautious in their responses to the social environment (Baumeister, Tice, & Hutton, 1989; Tice, 1993) and are motivated to protect their self-image from potential threats (e.g., by avoiding evaluative contexts that could potentially expose their personal shortcomings, Harris & Snyder, 1986; Strube & Roemmle, 1985, and self-handicapping when failure is meaningful, Tice, 1991).

COR theory (Hobfoll, 1988) proposes that individuals always strive to obtain, retain, and protect resources. They assert themselves proactively and invest resources before the disaster strikes (Hobfoll & Lerman, 1989). Individuals and groups proactively cope by (a) striving to acquire and maintain their resource reservoirs, (b) acting early when first warning signs of some impending problems are evidenced, and (c) by actively positing themselves in circumstances that fit their resources or otherwise place them and their family/social group at an advantage (Baltes, 1997). In other words, people are active participants in looking forward in their lives, considering their goals, evaluating obstacles and advantages that the environment is likely to offer, and acting to enhance their resources and limit their resource losses (Hobfoll, 2001). However, proactive coping is very much dependent on people’s life-span development and their social status and access to societal affordances. Those who are well resource endowed due to their own efforts and their place in society (being a member of non-stigmatised group or having wealth), are better able to plan for future contingencies, invest resources for further resource enhancement, and place themselves in position that allow for risk minimization (Schonpflug, 1985). Hence, self-esteem, a robust psychological resource (Hobfoll, 1989), becomes the motivating factor for preparedness. People prefer to invest resource in impending disaster situations.

People having high self-esteem have more sense of worth. They will protect themselves from a self-esteem threatening situation ( Loewenstein & Lerner, 2003). Aftermath of a disaster is such which creates no difference between rich and poor. All are thrown to the streets. Are expected to stay in same rehabilitation camps, and eat same type of foods. It creates a situation like helplessness/resource loss/depletion. Indian society is characterised by vertical collectivistic culture and has high power distance (Triandis, 1996). There is a huge gulf between rich and poor. Since socio-economic status is positively correlated with perceptions of self-esteem, the loss of property and loss of power may lead to perceived threat to self-esteem. In order to avoid such a self-esteem threatening situation, people with high self-esteem might have got more prepared for both flood and heat wave.

Adoption of self-protective behaviour is a function of persuasion (Mulilis & Lippa, 1990) and people having low self-esteem are persuaded easily (Janis & Field, 1959). Hence, people having low self-esteem would have been more prepared for the disasters. However, results do not support this contention because people with low self-esteem are also susceptible to depression (Rosenberg & Schooler, 1989) which hampers the decision making process. Therefore, people with high self-esteem, devoid of depression, are more prepared for flood and heat wave.

What supports the second hypothesis is that people having high individual mastery are more prepared for heat wave and those with high communal mastery are more prepared for flood. Individual/community mastery being the management resource, regulates the use and flow of other resources (Hobfoll & Lilly, 1993). That helps individuals to accumulate resource to cope proactively against resource loss.

Pearlin (1995) suggests possession of a sense of control by itself tends to reduce feelings of vulnerability to threatening conditions. It reduces the ominousness of such conditions. Mastery acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy: when we feel that we possess control over the important forces of our lives, we act accordingly. To some extent, mastery is a liberating disposition, freeing people to be more experimental and more forceful in facing up to life exigencies. That is why, people having more sense of mastery, and feeling more control over situations showed more preparedness for heat waves.

Communal mastery is pivotal in coping with stressors among persons imbedded in a collectivistic culture (Hobfoll, Jackson, Hobfoll, Pierce, & Young, 2002). In the flood sample, the communal mastery is a potential predictor of preparedness behaviour. There are two reasons for it. First, the sample is drawn from agrarian village communities where collectivistic values prevail. Second, Indians behave as collectivist or individualist depending upon the sthan (place), kaal (time), and patra (person) (Sinha & Tripathi, 1994). Natural disasters have the effect of binding a community together to repair the damage caused by a common cause (Mileti, Drabek, & Hass, 1975). As the area is prone to recurring floods, in that situation people behave collectively to handle the situation.

The consistent findings in both the contrasting weather-related disasters reveal that the two important intrapersonal resources are potential predictor of disaster preparedness. Even if there are methodological issues like purposive sampling and predominantly male respondents, the findings of the study have implications in disaster planning. The community empowerment programmes can be designed to develop the self-esteem and sense of mastery in people. These key psychological resources can help people better prepared for disasters.

India’s geo-climatic conditions make it one of the most disaster prone countries in the world. Moreover, India is a developing country having second largest population in the world. Situations that Indians face before and after the disasters are different from the developed resourceful countries. Owing to lack of financial resources people find difficulty in getting prepared for disasters (revealed from the conversation with respondents while field visit). There are also glimpses of scarcity of tangible resources (poor access to technology, lack of connectivity to remote places, inadequacy of relief material, delayed governmental support, and poor rehabilitation work) in the reporting of various medias. In such a situation, possession of psychological resources such as self-esteem and individual/communal mastery may be a ray of hope.

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Mishra, S., Suar, D & Paton D © 2011. The authors assign to the Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies at Massey University a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant a non-exclusive licence to Massey University to publish this document in full on the World Wide Web and for the document to be published on mirrors on the World Wide Web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the authors.

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