DTSC Lab members at University of Florida campus, April 2022

About Us

Who are we?
We are an interdisciplinary group that conducts community-centered research to explore the psychology behind how disasters are understood, with a focus on the societal inequality and injustice by which risk profiles are defined. We aim to support risk reduction in Floridian communities by providing empirical evidence for different ways to tell disaster stories, frame problems and solutions, and motivate community efforts for organization and policy change.

What do we do?
We use diverse methods to understand the psychology behind disaster perceptions, attitudes, and decision-making. To empower communities towards change organizing and the reduction of disaster risk, the team studies how narratives and communication shape understandings of disaster phenomena and build or inhibit trusting relationships between stakeholders. We believe that bi-directional trust between communities and researchers is key to disaster prevention and recovery. Community members’ perspectives are centered and community-centered methodologies are used to gather data first-hand.

Key research areas include:

  • Structural, sociopolitical, and psychological barriers that leave communities vulnerable to disaster.
  • Individual and community level factors (e.g., needs, narratives) that should inform prevention and recovery strategies.
  • Risk perception and communication
  • Disaster behavior and decision-making

Why is the disciplinary mix important?
Interdisciplinary research is both consistently lauded and rare. Though challenging, it’s critical to the success of the project because we each come to the work from different theoretical angles. Additionally, we bring a broadened methodological toolset to enhance conducting and disseminating this work. The group is built on a foundational mix of disaster risk reduction and behavioral social psychology. To effectively study the impact of narratives on individuals and their communities, we need a strong base of psychology theory and methods as well as the contextual knowledge of disaster studies.

Who is our work for?
Currently, our primary focus is to support Floridian citizens and advocates who wish to reduce risk in their communities. We especially aim to incorporate and amplify the perspectives of historically vulnerable Floridians in our work. In the longer-term, we hope that our work can be applied in ways that benefit historically vulnerable communities on a broader geographic scale (via research collaborations or informing policy change).

Why is it of value?
We study the psychology of disaster risk with a focus on social justice and science communication that builds trust. The Lab delivers empirical evidence that is built WITH communities from the ground up, connecting to the rich theoretical (and interdisciplinary) traditions of disaster studies, with a distinct flavor of psychological methods of study.

Lab Members

Dr. Jason von Meding:

Theoretical expertise and link to group purpose:
I have a background in architecture/shelter/project management but have also hold diverse research experience in disaster studies. My work with affected communities has led me to understand the power of narratives, language and framing. I can connect the group effort with the wider context of disaster studies, a truly interdisciplinary field.

What would you like to work on as part of this group?
I would like to work directly with communities facing risk in its various manifestations, studying how the causes of disasters are understood and the reasons that people believe, trust, behave, organize the way that they do.

Methodological Keywords: Qualitative Research Design; Community Engagement and Partnership; Co-design; Participatory Action Research


Dr. Colin Tucker Smith:

Theoretical expertise and link to group purpose:
I am a Social Psychologist who defines myself as an “attitudes researcher” – I specialize in the measures used in implicit social cognition (e.g., Implicit Association Test). I understand the social psychology view on persuasion (in terms of attitude change) well. I also study attitude formation and change in the political psychology domain.

What would you like to work on as part of this group?
My primary focus is the quantifiable aspects of the projects we engage in. I want to, for example, work with our community partners to measure their experiences related to disasters. And then I want to test how those experiences connect to their general thinking styles and the way they think about sociopolitical systems.

Methodological Keywords: Experimental Design; Social-Personality Psychology Paradigms; Implicit Attitude and Bias Measurement; Quantitative Data Analysis


Dr. Marjorie Prokosch:

Theoretical expertise and link to group purpose:
My degree-work is in Experimental Psychology. I have received formal training in Social Psychology, Evolutionary Psychology, Biopsychology, and informal training in Health Psychology. I am hoping to apply theory from my past work to conduct applied work that can amplify the perspectives of (and hopefully benefit) historically underrepresented and vulnerable groups.

What would you like to work on as part of this group?
I’m especially interested in chances to study how specific stressors (e.g., discrimination, poverty, safety concerns, past disaster experience) and health states (e.g., health perceptions; immunological and endocrine shifts) shape decision-making (e.g., trust, risk regulation) in ways that impact disaster prevention or recovery efforts.

Methodological Keywords: Experimental Design; Social Psychology Paradigms; Physiological Data Collection and Analysis; Quantitative Data Analysis


Victoria Colvin:

I am Victoria, a second year graduate student in social psychology working with Dr. Colin Smith. My work aims to understand the role that gender stereotypes play in implicit and explicit attitudes toward female leaders. At the moment, I am doing work on how political ideology can impact the traits voters value most in male vs. female political candidates, and how these differences may help us understand the disparity in the number of female elected officials compared to male. 

Methodological Keywords: Experimental Design; Social Psychology


Haleh Mehdipour:

I am a Construction Management Ph.D. student working under the supervision of Dr. von Meding. I have undergraduate degree in Architecture and two Master’s degrees in Construction Management and Post-Disaster Reconstruction. My Ph.D. research aims to integrate the principles of community-designed spatial justice into the infrastructure planning and building process. One of my primary focus areas is gaining a deep understanding of the philosophical foundations of community engagement theories since it will empower marginalized communities by involving them in the decision-making process when it comes to any proposed changes to places. I would also investigate affordable housing gaps in underrepresented neighborhoods and bridging between affordable and sustainable housing.

Methodological Keywords: Qualitative Research Design; Community-Based Research; Participatory Action Research; Spatial Analysis


Amer Hamad Issa Abukhalaf:

I am a research assistant at the Florida Institute for Built Environment Resilience (FIBER), and I research disasters with a focus on emergency planning and crisis management. I have published in leading academic journals, such as the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, Natural Hazards, and Disaster Prevention and Management. I trained as a civil engineer and a structural designer by practice, and am a certified project management practitioner from PMI. My master’s degree in executive management is from Ashland University in Ohio, where I double majored in Project Management, and Operation & Logistics. Currently, I am a Ph.D. Candidate at the Design, Construction, and Planning College at the University of Florida.

Methodological Keywords: Mixed-Methods; Statistical Analysis; Qualitative Research; Survey Design; Interview


Past Lab Members

Collin Bowie (2019-2022)

I earned my undergraduate degree in landscape architecture at UF where I learned the ins and outs of designing space for people, developed an understanding of the importance of thorough site analysis and planning, and studied how people respond to their environment. I am currently pursuing a master’s degree in construction management at UF with a specific interest in building information modeling (BIM) and how it can be used to enhance current construction workflow practices. I am also working with Dr. Von Meding and assisting in the facilitation of his podcast “Disasters Deconstructed ” where he and his co-host examine human society and the social injustices that form the root causes of disasters.

Methodological Keywords: architecture; construction management; building information modeling; podcasting


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