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Motoaki Sugiura

Tohoku University

Breakout Room 4.


personality; resilience; interaction; cognitive; neuroscience

How can the human dimensions of disaster impacts be more accurately captured and represented in the analysis, modeling and simulation of disasters?

In the analysis of the functioning of complex systems; including community reactions to disasters; the characterization and manipulation of the systems’ constituent elements is fundamental. Modern medicine has revolutionized the diagnosis and treatment of diseases by understanding the functions of the cells and molecules that constitute the body. In materials science; understanding and manipulating the structure of the molecules that constitute the materials of interest have led to the development of new materials with astonishing functionality. In disaster science; a similar methodological revolution is expected through the understanding and manipulation of the behaviors of individual humans that constitute society. For example; based on a survey of the survivors of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake; we identified eight factors of psychobehavioral responses (“power to live” factors) []; we showed that each of these forces affected individual's survival in a variety of disaster contexts. Understanding that human psychobehavioral responses are greatly influenced by the behavior of others around them; and individuals respond to adversity as a group; six of the eight power-to-live factors characterize individuals’ relationships with others. As an example; the ongoing coronavirus outbreak caused almost everyone to wear masks in one country; while the debate over mask wearing caused great social turmoil in another country. Such large differences in societal response cannot be explained without the characterization of the functioning of individuals that underlie collective dynamics.

What type of data and supporting research infrastructure would be necessary to enable novel, transdisciplinary approaches to answering these and other human-centered disaster questions?

Multi-level data collection and infrastructures capable of supporting them are necessary. Specifically; physiology-level data (e.g.; neuroscience) needs to be collected and linked to psycho-behavioral characteristics of individuals. In turn; this data must be linked to society-level data before and after the actual disaster. The former requires experimental measurement facilities; and the latter requires collaboration with governments and other organizations that have access to population-level data. In order to understand the role of cultural and societal structures; it is vital to compare multiple societies that differ in fundamental ways. This is best achieved in an international context. Then it will be possible to dissociate the diverse (acquired) and common (innate) aspects of the findings; with enormous educational implications. This advantage further facilitates the applicability of those findings to disasters in different countries and populations. For these endeavors; it is important to have a sustainable research organization and a human resource development system. We have already taken on the challenge of elucidating the neural basis of disaster-adaptive psychobehavioral traits (power to live with disasters) []. In order to apply these findings to disaster science; an integrated international multi-level research team and an organizational infrastructure to support them is needed to bridge the gap from basic research to organization building; with disaster science at the center.

In what ways can US-Japan collaborations advance these questions in new and important ways?

The proposed US-Japan collaboration will provide a basic organizational and technical framework for such integrated international multi-level research; expected to serve as a springboard for further multinational and multicultural collaborations. As a first step; we will begin by translating research tools from Japanese to English; and vice versa; to take advantage of research tools currently available only in one language. This will in turn enable cross-cultural comparative psychological research; which we plan to extend to research at the physiological level and social implementation at the sociological level. We will identify and overcome anticipated obstacles inherent to cross-cultural and interdisciplinary research at all stages. The organizational and technical framework developed to achieve these goals will in turn become the infrastructure that will continue to support international collaborations in the long run. We have already embarked on such a US-Japan collaboration. Several of us at Tohoku University; Professor Yuichi Shoda of the University of Washington and Dr. Laura Brady of the University of Michigan; have taken up the challenge of translating the power to live questionnaire into English and using it to analyze collective resilience to discrimination against Asians in the United States as well as resilience to the COVID-19 pandemic [https://osf. io/2qut4/]. Through this work; we have established a protocol for questionnaire translation (necessary human resources and procedures). We are planning to expand this collaboration in both organizational structures and scientific expertise to address more diverse topics; and research at the physiological level and social implementation.

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