The paradox of social resilience: how cognitive strategies and coping mechanisms attenuate and accentuate resilience

Duncan Shaw, Judith Scully, Tom Hart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper examines two concepts, social vulnerability and social resilience, often used to describe people and their relationship to a disaster. Social vulnerability is the exposure to harm resulting from demographic and socioeconomic factors that heighten the exposure to disaster. Social resilience is the ability to avoid disaster, cope with change and recover from disaster. Vulnerability to a space and social resilience through society is explored through a focus on the elderly, a group sometimes regarded as having low resilience while being particularly vulnerable. Our findings explore the degree to which an elderly group exposed to coastal flood risk exhibits social resilience through both cognitive strategies, such as risk perception and self-perception, as well as through coping mechanisms, such as accepting change and self-organisation. These attenuate and accentuate the resilience of individuals through their own preparations as well as their communities' preparations and also contribute to the delusion of resilience which leads individuals to act as if they are more resilient than they are in reality, which we call negative resilience. Thus, we draw attention to three main areas: the degree to which social vulnerability can disguise its social resilience; the role played by cognitive strategies and coping mechanisms on an individual's social resilience; and the high risk aspects of social resilience.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)194-203
Number of pages10
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Early online date6 Feb 2014
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


  • elderly
  • flood risk
  • social resilience
  • social vulnerability


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