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Hurricane Names

June 16, 2014

Feminine hurricane names may lull people into inadequate preparations.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

The hurricane gender effect.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Could gender bias affect hurricane preparedness?  That’s a question raised in a new report by University of Illinois behavioral scientist Sharon Shavitt.  In a study launched by her student Kiju Jung, her team found that historically, the more feminine a hurricane’s assigned name, the higher the death toll – even excluding two extreme cases, Katrina and Audrey.  Then in the lab, they presented people with hypothetical information about impending hurricanes.

SHARON SHAVITT (University of Illinois):

And we found consistently that when people imagined being in the path of a female-named storm, they felt it was less risky, it was likely to be less intense, and they seemed less motivated to evacuate.

HIRSHON:
The findings have already attracted some controversy, but the effects were strong – suggesting that giving a severe storm a very feminine name, compared with a very masculine one, could nearly triple its death toll.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.