Stanford Researchers Explore How People Respond to Wildfire Smoke


Interviews with Northern California residents reveal that social norms and social support are essential for understanding protective health behaviors during wildfire smoke events – information that could be leveraged to improve public health outcomes.

As wildfires become commonplace in the western U.S. and around the world, checking the daily air quality warning has become as routine as checking the weather. But what people do with that data – whether it drives them to slip on a mask before stepping outside or seal up their homes against smoke – is not always straightforward or rational, according to new Stanford research.

In a case study of Northern California residents, Stanford researchers explored the psychological factors and social processes that drive responses to wildfire smoke. The research, which ultimately aims to uncover approaches for helping people better protect themselves, shows that social norms and social support are essential for understanding protective health actions during wildfire smoke events. The findings appeared this month in the journal Climate Risk Management.

“It’s important to understand how people behave so that public health communications professionals can potentially intervene and promote safer behavior that mitigates risk,” said lead study author Francisca Santana, a PhD student in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources (E-IPER). “This kind of qualitative work is a first step so that we can learn how people are using information and interacting to make decisions. We can then look at where there might be leverage points or opportunities to promote more protective behavior.”

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