The Role of 360-Degree Videos in Wildfire Preparedness
Publication Date: 2022
Due to climate change, wildfires have become more intense and more frequent, particularly in parts of the western United States. Wildfire activity increasingly threatens fragile natural ecosystems as well as homes, businesses, and other human infrastructure. However, wildfire preparedness usually fails to draw public attention because the risks feel less immediate or salient than other concerns. To address this problem, the present study investigated the role of 360-degree videos in affecting public wildfire preparedness. More specifically, this study aimed to identify psychological mechanisms underlying the effect of 360-degree videos on individuals’ risk information seeking behaviors by focusing on the mediated effect of spatial presence on negative affect, issue involvement, and perceived wildfire risks. This study draws from the Risk Information Seeking and Processing (RISP) model and theories of immersive media. The RISP model, which has been applied to various environmental and health risks, delineates how sociopsychological variables (i.e., risk perceptions, negative affect, individual characteristics, etc.) influence individuals seek and process risk information (Griffin et al., 19991).
The 360-degree video is expected to produce a greater sense of spatial presence. The sense of spatial presence is often referred to as the sensation of “being there” inside a virtual media environment (Fraustino et al., 20182). In other words, sense of spatial presence is used to describe participants’ feelings of being transported into the mediated environment created by the 360-degree videos. Therefore, we hypothesized:
- Hypothesis 1: Viewing 360-degree videos (traditional videos) will increase (decrease) viewers’ sense of spatial presence toward the wildfire video content.
The higher sense of spatial presence they perceive, the more likely individuals feel they are actually transported into a virtual world (Lee, 20043). The sense of being in the wildfire mediated environment tends to arouse individuals’ worries or anxiety towards wildfires. Such negative emotional responses (i.e., worry, anxiety, anger, etc.) are conceptualized as negative affect. We argued that negative affect would lead to individuals’ information seeking behaviors. Therefore, we hypothesized that:
Hypothesis 2a: Viewing 360-degree videos will influence individuals’ negative affect through the sense of spatial presence.
Hypothesis 2b: Negative affect will be positively related to information seeking behaviors regarding wildfires.
The sense of spatial presence reduces perceived temporal distances, which increases individuals’ perceived imminence of the wildfire risk (Ahn, 20144; Ahn et al., 20165). This perceived importance and relevance lead to issue involvement (Petty & Cacioppo, 19816). Increased personal relevance with risk would influence individuals information seeking behaviors. Therefore, we hypothesized:
Hypothesis 3a: Viewing 360-degree videos will influence issue involvement through the sense of spatial presence.
Hypothesis 3b: Issue involvement will be positively related to information seeking behaviors regarding wildfires.
Previous research has indicated that spatial presence has been shown to influence individuals’ environmental behaviors by heightening risk perceptions (Breves & Schramm, 20207; Fox et al., 20208). Aligning with the findings, our study proposed that sense of spatial presence generated by 360-degree videos will affect individuals’ risk perceptions toward wildfires. Such risk perceptions play a key role in influencing how people respond to risks. Therefore, we hypothesized:
Hypothesis 4a: Viewing 360-degree videos will influence individuals’ wildfire risk perceptions through the sense of spatial presence.
Hypothesis 4b: Wildfire risk perception will be positively related to information seeking behaviors regarding wildfires.
The present study employed a between-subjects online experiment (N = 400) to investigate whether 360-degree videos were effective at communicating with the public. Participants were randomly assigned to either the 360-degree video condition (n = 200) in which they watched four 360-dgree videos regarding different aspects of a wildfire or the unidirectional condition (n = 200) in which they watched the same content from the traditional videos (2D videos).
Findings showed that participants who interacted with 360-degree videos felt a stronger sense of spatial presence. Importantly, mediation analysis showed that the sense of spatial presence mediated the influence of 360-degree videos on negative affect, issue involvement, and perceived wildfire risks. Participants’ information seeking behaviors positively related to their negative affect, issue involvement in the wildfire issue, and perceived wildfire risks.
This study found that the sense of special presence, which is regarded a hallmark of immersive media, has played a crucial role in affecting participants’ negative affect, perceived wildfire risk, and issue involvement. Applying such immersive experience to wildfire preparedness communication would increase the message efficacy. Participants might find 360-degree video content to be more salient than traditional video content. For public relations content creators who specialize in media content creation and management, using 360-degree videos can be an effective approach to enhance the message salience.
This study also suggests that negative emotions (i.e., sad, scared, anxious, etc.) motived participants to seek information regarding wildfires Recent research found that affective responses might relate more directly to information seeking (Griffin et al., 20089; Kahlor, 200710; Kahlor et al., 200611; Loewenstein et al., 200112). The present study supports this modified RISP model research that has shown that the more worried or anxious people toward the risk issue, the more likely they would seek information regarding the topic (ter Huurne et al., 200913). The original RISP model did not address how risk information seeking behavior is driven by affective responses. Our study demonstrated that negative emotions significantly motivated participants to seek risk information. When attempting to communicate with the public about wildfire preparedness, public relations content creators need to consider creating messages that can elicit audiences’ greater levels of affective response. Audiences would pay more attention to the content and be more likely to engage in the wildfire preparedness.
Our study also found that individuals’ risk perceptions influence their information seeking behaviors regarding wildfires. The RISP model uses perceived hazard characteristics as an umbrella term to encompass several variables that can influence individual risk information seeking behaviors. Our findings suggested that individual risk perception is a substantive domain within the perceived hazard characteristics construct. In addition, this study has shown that issue involvement is positively related to information seeking behaviors. Issue involvement is not included in both the original and modified RISP model. This result suggests that issue involvement is an additional variable which is needed to understand people’s risk information seeking behaviors. In wildfire preparedness communication, media content creators can use 360-degree videos to deliver prompting messages. By creating a greater sense of “being there,” 360-degree videos can affect people’s perceptions of wildfire risks, which ultimately motivates people to seek information regarding the topic.
Wildfires have caused a significant loss of property and lives (Penman et al., 201614). Although the public is more informed about the risks of wildfires and what they can do to reduce those losses compared to previous decades, most residents still do not adequately prepare their property or household for this natural hazard (Piers et al., 201815). Presumably, more effective communication strategies and tools could encourage the public to better comply with wildfire preparation guidelines from emergency preparedness officials. The present study aims to test that claim by investigating how novel 360-degree videos of wildfires are more likely to encourage viewers to seek wildfire risk information than other traditional tools.
Wildfires are an important and integral part of many ecosystems (Pausas & Keeley, 201916). Since the mid-1980s, however, scientists have noted that wildfires have become more intense and more frequent, particularly in parts of the western United States (Westerling, 201617). It is well established that the observed increase in wildfire activity has been caused by anthropogenic climate change (Abatzoglou & Williams, 201618; Marlon et al., 200819; Westerling & Bryant, 200820).For example, according to a California government report, the length of the fire season has increased by 75 days across the Sierras (California fire gov, 2021). Simultaneously, urbanization and the expansion of suburban and exurban city limits into wildlands have led to rapid population growth in fire-prone areas (Collins, 200821; Collins & Bolin, 200922; Pyne, 200423; Wang et al., 201624). Together, climate change and urbanization have put more people in harm’s way. However, recent surveys indicated that many individuals are unwilling to invest in wildfire prevention or support relocating communities at risk (Ryan, 201925). A survey conducted by the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University (2019) revealed that Californians are less likely to actually pay for wildfire prevention although they are being impacted by wildfire events. In terms of relocation, sixty-two percent of survey respondents supported restricting residential development in fire-prone areas, but only twenty-two percent supported prohibiting owners from rebuilding the destroyed homes (Ryan, 2019).
Features of 360-Degree Videos
Immersive forms of media (i.e., virtual reality stimulations, omnidirectional 360-degree videos, augmented reality, and 3D content) have been regarded as suitable tools to illustrate abstract topics (Ahn et al., 201926; Bailey et al., 201527; Breves & Schramm, 2021). Empirical evidence indicates that communication methods that rely on immersive media can be effective in reaching, building relationships with, and influencing attitudes and behaviors of diverse publics (Wright & Hinson, 201428). Highly immersive media, such as 360-degree videos, are becoming more and more widespread on apps like YouTube and are easier and cheaper to produce and disseminate than other immersive forms of media, such as virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) (Fonseca & Kraus, 201629; Oh et al., 202030; Tse et al., 201731).
The 360-degree or panoramic videos refer to the immersive videos filmed by cameras that record a 360-degree view of the scene (Breves & Heber, 201932; Brautović et al., 201733; Passmore et al., 201634). In 360-degree videos, viewers can explore and navigate the view direction according to the contents and viewers’ interests (Duanmu et al., 201835). As an emerging technology, 360-degree videos have been increasingly created, sought and consumed in the past few years (Fraustino et al., 2018). Due to the increasing availability, quality, and comfort of head-mounted displays (HMDs), immersive 360-degree virtual reality videos are steadily growing in popularity on social media platforms (e.g., YouTube and Facebook) (Toet et al., 202036). In particular, 360-degree desktop videos provide users with more accessible and easily viewable content (Greenberg, 201537; Oh et al., 202138). On desktops, the technology allows users to click and drag around a scene to see things from every angle, and on mobile, the scenery changes depend on how users position their phones in space (Weiss, 201639). Numerous 360-degree videos have been harnessed to deliver science information to the public, such as the Science Channel, the Seattle Science Foundation, and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, to name a few (Oh et al., 2020).
By overcoming the spatial and temporal distance between the audience and what is being represented in the video, 360-degree videos give the users the impression of being physically located within the environment where the events take place (Barreda-Angeles et al., 202040). Although 360-degree videos have been widely applied to different areas (Oh et al., 2020), there is limited scholarly research exploring the effects of 360-degree videos in wildfire-focused communication. This study aims to explore how 360-degree videos affect individuals’ information seeking behaviors regarding wildfires. In addition, this study aims to examine the RISP model in the context of wildfire communication.
Immersive Media and the Sense of Spatial Presence
Immersive media can enhance the perception of being located in the depicted media environment, which is commonly referred to as spatial presence (Breves & Schramm, 2020; Hartmann et al., 201641; Kim & Biocca, 199742; Steuer, 199243; Wirth et al., 200744). Thus, the 360-degree videos give the users the impression of being physically located within the environment where the events take place (Barreda-Angeles et al., 2020). Sense of presence has been considered key to immersive media (Baños et al., 200445).Higher levels of spatial presence would be activated when the media provide high immersive technologies (Wirth et al., 2007). In the context of 360-degree videos, users would obtain the experience of feeling physically located within the 360-degree video related environment and experiencing virtual environments and objects as if they were real (Barreda-Ángeles et al., 2020; Fraustino et al., 2018; Oh et al., 2021). In the context of wildfires, our study proposed that 360-degree videos can generate a stronger sense of spatial presence when compared with traditional video.
Overview of the Risk Information Seeking and Processing Model
The Risk Information Seeking and Processing (RISP) model was first proposed by Griffin et al. (1999). The RISP model highlights the various components, such as information insufficiency, relevant channel beliefs, perceived information gathering capacity, perceived hazard characteristics, informational subjective norms, affective responses and various individual characteristics, that affect how people are motivated to seek and process risk information (Griffin et al., 1999; ter Huurne et al., 2009). Extant research tends to select a few concepts from the full RISP Model rather than examine the entire construct. As such, the RISP model is a work in progress, which means there is considerable potential for researchers to explore in their research (Griffin et al., 2008). This study expanded the RISP model to wildfire communication by focusing on how perceived hazard characteristics and affective responses affected individuals’ information seeking behaviors regarding wildfires.
Information Insufficiency. Information insufficiency is central to the RISP Model, which refers to “an individual’s sense of a discrepancy between the amount of knowledge held and that needed to deal with a given risk” (ter Huurne et al., 2009). Relevant channel belief is another important factor in the RISP model, which affects how people employ the communication channels to obtain risk information (ter Huurne et al., 2009). Perceived information-gathering capacity suggests that when individuals have greater perceived ability to access and understand risk information, they are more likely to seek information actively (Yang et al., 201446). Informational subjective norms are used to describe individuals’ perceived social expectations (Griffin et al., 200447; ter Huurne et al., 2009). More specifically, individuals’ information insufficiency and information processing are affected by how much they should know about the risks (Griffin et al., 2004; ter Huurne et al., 2009; Yang et al., 201048).
Affective Responses. Affective responses (i.e., worry, anxiety, joy, etc.) can influence the way individuals cope with risk information. According to the original RISP model, affective responses would affect an individual’s sense of information insufficiency about a risk, which ultimately affects their information seeking behaviors (Griffin et al., 1999; Huurne et al., 2009). More recent studies showed that negative emotional responses can directly motivate an individual’s information seeking and processing (Griffin et al., 2008; Yang et al., 2010; Yang et al., 2014). The present study employed the modified RISP model as theoretical framework. Our study proposed that negative affect would influence individuals’ risk information seeking behaviors regarding wildfires.
Perceived Hazard Characteristics. Perceived hazard characteristics were conceptualized as risk perception, institutional trust, and personal efficacy (Griffin et al., 2004; Griffin et al., 2008; Yang et al., 2014). The RISP model uses perceived hazard characteristics as an umbrella term to include various cognitive mechanisms that affect individuals’ risk perceptions (Yang et al., 2014). The present study unpacked perceived hazard characteristics and further investigated how various cognitive mechanisms affected individuals’ risk information seeking and processing behaviors regarding wildfires.
Previous research found that using the 360-degree feature while watching environmental videos enhanced participants’ feelings of contentment (Oh et al., 2021). Yet there is limited scholarly research investigating the effects of 360-degree features on participants’ negative emotions. Our study aimed to fill this gap by examining the effects of 360-degree feature on negative emotions (i.e., sad, worried, anxious, scared, etc.). According to the RISP model, negative affective responses (i.e., worry, fear, and anxiety) influence how individuals perceive information insufficiency about the risk and, ultimately, their behaviors of seeking risk information (ter Huurne et al., 2009).
However, more recent research has demonstrated that affective responses to risk are directly related to a person’s information seeking behavior, not simply directly via the information sufficiency component proposed by the original RISP model (Griffin et al., 2008; Kahlor et al., 2006). When individuals are confronted with risk messages, they assess the related threat and their self-efficacy to determine whether they need to seek additional information to deal with the risk (Kahlor, 201049). In such risk situations, individuals’ responses are influenced by their emotions, such as worry, fear, dread, or anxiety (Loewenstein et al., 2001). These emotions then play a critical role in rational, risk-averse, forward-looking, decision-making (Loewenstein et al., 2001).
An individual’s judgements and decisions about risk are based on both systematic and affective systems (Slovic et al., 200450). That is, risk decisions are based on what someone knows about the risk (systematic) as well as how they feel about it (affective) (ter Huurne et al., 2009; Slovic et al., 2004). When people feel more worried or anxious toward the risk, they are more likely to seek information regarding the topic (ter Huurne et al., 2009). Previous studies also found that fear can lead to the systemic processing of information and result in more favorable attitudes (Meijnders et al., 200151; Yang et al., 2014). Thus, the effects of discrete negative emotions have been linked to individual risk information seeking behaviors (Dillard & Nabi, 200652).
Researchers have investigated the underlying mechanisms that explain how the use of 360-degree videos affect users’ attitudes and behaviors in different contexts. To date, several important mediating variables have been identified in extant 360-degree video literature including spatial presence (Barreda-Ángeles et al., 2020; Bystrom et al., 199953; Fraustino et al., 2018; Oh et al., 2021), response efficacy (Ahn et al., 2014), perceived interactivity (Oh et al., 2020), emotional arousal (Barreda-Ángeles et al., 2020; Oh et al., 2021), and elaborated message processing (Oh et al., 2021). In order to understand how 360-degree affects information seeking behaviors, this study hypothesized the sense of spatial presence has an indirect effect on negative affect. Such negative affect has been linked to individual behaviors (Dillard & Nabi, 2006).
According to the social-mediated crisis communication model (SMCC), indirect disaster experience via media may enhance individual information seeking behaviors and intentions to take protective actions during a subsequent similar disaster (Liu et al., 201454; Faustino et al., 2018). Seeing disaster events on television or other media affects individuals’ judgements about the severity of the risk (Zillmann, 200655). If the visual elements elicit individuals’ interests in the content, highly involved individuals would allocate more cognitive effort to process the information (Lee et al., 201656). This process, which is termed “issue involvement,” refers to “the extent to which the attitudinal issue under consideration is of personal importance” (Petty & Cacioppo, 197957, p. 1915).
Past research has indicated that immersive virtual environments may increase “issue involvement” among individuals due to their ability to elicit higher spatial presence and higher imminence of environmental risks (Ahn, 2014; Ahn et al., 2016). Spatial presence, as fostered by immersive media, has been shown to increase personal relevance (Ahn et al., 2019; Breves, 202058; Breves & Schramm, 2020; Nowak et al., 202059). Such perceived personal relevance and importance leads to issue involvement (Ahn et al., 2016; Petty & Cacioppo, 1981). The RISP model further suggests that personal relevance with a risk positively influences information seeking behaviors (ter Huurne et al., 2009). Previous research has indicated that issue involvement would influence individuals risk information seeking and processing because individuals are more likely to attend to issues which are highly relevant and important (Petty & Cacioppo, 1979). Aligning with the RISP model, we expect issue involvement to be positively related to risk information seeking behaviors.
Wildfire Risk Perceptions
Past research indicates immersive media increase the perceived severity of various issues (Ahn et al., 2019; Breves, 2020; Breves & Schramm, 2020; Nowak et al., 2020). Risk perception is regarded as a cognitive process which influences people’s behavior when they have to make decisions involving potential risks (Capone et al., 202060). In the context of environmental communication, immersive media have been shown to enhance pro-environmental behavioral intentions by heightening individuals’ risk perceptions (Ahn et al., 2009; Breves & Schramm, 2020; Fox et al., 2020). In the context of health communication, researchers found that risk perception is one of the most relevant variables in determining individuals’ responses to COVID-19 (Capone et al., 2020). Thus, perceptions of risk play a prominent role in developing risk communication (ter Huurne et al., 2009).
Subjective risk perception is typically based on perceived severity of possible outcomes, which plays a key role in influencing how people respond to risks (ter Huurne et al., 2009). Fraustino and colleagues (2018) have shown that 360-degree video content elicited a greater sense of spatial presence, which allows viewers to remotely experience the aftermath of a disaster event. In the context of health communication, immersive media and spatial presence have been shown to increase individuals’ perceptions of risks (Westerman et al., 201661; Westerling & Bryant, 2008). In our study, we proposed that 360-degree videos would influence individuals’ wildfire risk perceptions through the sense of spatial presence.
Although widely replicated, the RISP model has yet to be applied to immersive media. The spatial presence afforded by immersive media has considerable potential to facilitate information seeking (Lachlan et al., 201062). The present study aimed to reveal the cognitive mechanisms underlying individuals’ risk information seeking and processing.
- Hypothesis 1: Viewing 360-degree videos (traditional videos) will increase (decrease) viewers’ sense of spatial presence toward the wildfire video content.
- Hypothesis 2a: Viewing 360-degree videos will influence individuals’ negative affect through the sense of spatial presence.
- Hypothesis 2b: Negative affect will be positively related to information seeking behaviors regarding wildfires.
- Hypothesis 3a: Viewing 360-degree videos will influence issue involvement through the sense of spatial presence.
- Hypothesis 3b: Issue involvement will be positively related to information seeking behaviors regarding wildfires.
- Hypothesis 4a: Viewing 360-degree videos will influence individuals’ wildfire risk perceptions through the sense of spatial presence.
- Hypothesis 4b: Wildfire risk perceptions will be positively related to information seeking behaviors regarding wildfires.
See Figure 1 for our conceptual research model. (Note that "H" in the model stands for hypothesis.)
Figure 1. Conceptual Research Model
We conducted a single factor between-subject online experiment with two conditions: the 360-degree (experimental) condition vs. the unidirectional (control) condition. The only manipulated factor is whether video content was displayed via 360-degree videos or unidirectional videos. Each of the subjects was randomly assigned to either the experimental condition or the control condition.
To increase the generalizability of the study and demonstrate robustness beyond one message, participants were presented with four videos displaying wildfires from different perspectives.
We recruited 400 U.S. adult participants from Prolific, an online survey panel. Prolific allows screening of participants for various factors, including demographics. We applied Prolific’s prescreen questions to the study, such as nationality, current residence, fluent languages, and previous responses’ approved rate. We only recruited participants who were U.S. nationals or residents. Recommended by the Prolific panel, participants’ gender was controlled in this study. Of the sample, 197 participants identified themselves as male, 193 participants identified themselves as female, seven participants identified themselves as the third gender and one participant preferred not to say. The average age of our sample was 36.54 (minimum = 18, maximum = 79). In terms of race and ethnicity, 10.8% of the participants identified as Asian, 6.5% of the participants identified as African American, 77.8% of the participants identified as white, 10.8% of the participants identified as Hispanic, and 1.5% of the participants identified as Native American. When asked about their previous experience watching 360-degree videos, 52.3% of the participants indicated they had watched 360-degree videos. In terms of how often they watched the 360-degree videos, 35.5% of the participants indicated that they rarely watched the 360-degree videos and 11.0% of the participants sometimes watched the 360-degree videos. When asked what platforms they watched the 360-degree videos on, the majority of participants answered YouTube and Facebook. Netflix, Zillow and IMAX theater were also mentioned by participants.
This study used four different videos for each condition. The four videos convey different aspects of a wildfire: (1) what is a wildfire; (2) how lives are affected during a wildfire; (3) how firefighters battle wildfires; and (4) how lives are changed after a devastating wildfire. All four videos are about the same length (about one minute 30 seconds, see Table 1).
Table 1. Stimulus Videos
|In the Eye of the Fire||National Institute of Standards and Technology researchers created a 360-degree video about within a forest fire. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjx7z1F3pzE||one minute 50 seconds|
|The Day California Wildfires Smoke Covered the Skies 360 Video||This videos shows a 360-view during the day various Northern California Wildfires blocked the sun coming into the City of Vacaville California. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmeywiGWge0||one minute 24 seconds|
|Battling Wildfires In British Columbia||New York Times created a 360-degree video to display how British Columbia's government took the unprecedented step to battle 140 wildfires that have forced about 45,000 people from their homes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zu-Uh_UAwGw||one minute 33 seconds|
|Gatlinburg wildfire||WPTV News created a 360-degree video about how the Gatlinburg area was affected after the devastating wildfires. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2a8sf4rcLOM||one minute 38 seconds|
In the 360-degree condition, participants were directed to watch the 360-degree videos through a YouTube Link and instructed to move around the 360-degree field of view. In the unidirectional video condition, participants watched the traditional videos (2D video). The traditional videos were created by screen recording the 360-degree videos as they played without movement or 360-degree angle changes. The content of the 360-degree videos and unidirectional videos were identical for each story. The only difference was that in the unidirectional video condition, participants were constrained and unable to take advantage of the 360-degree view.
We conducted a pilot study to check the effectiveness of manipulations. After participants watched the videos, we asked if they used the 360-degree feature while watching the videos (i.e., moving around the video as it was playing). The pilot study (N = 60) results showed that the 360-degree (experimental) condition (M = 1.19, SD = 0.48) was significantly different than the unidirectional (control condition) (M = 2.39, SD = 0.76) (t (60) = -7.4, p < 0.01). The results indicated that participants in the experimental condition perceived the message interactivity of 360-degree videos significantly different than how participants in the control condition perceived the unidirectional videos.
Participants were recruited through Prolific. Prior to the survey, we conducted a pilot study (N = 60) to check the effectiveness of manipulations in each condition. After filling out a consent form, participants were randomly assigned to either the 360-degree condition or the unidirectional condition. First, all the participants were asked questions related to the constructs of interest: (1) how many 360-degree videos they have watched before, (2) have they used VR headsets or gear before, and (3) how much they enjoyed the 360-degree video/VR experience. Then within each of the two conditions, participants were asked to turn on the volume to watch the four videos. The presentation of these videos was randomized to guard against order effects. In both conditions, participants were required to spend a minimum of 45 seconds on each video. In the 360-degree condition, participants were instructed to click-and-drag to any spot on the screen. Their interactions were recorded by the Qualtrics survey software. The average time participants spent on each 360-degree video was 83.27 seconds. In the unidirectional condition, participants were told to watch the four videos from the beginning to the end. The average time participants spent on each unidirectional video was 91.10 seconds. After watching the videos, all participants were directed to indicate their feelings of spatial presence, negative affect, levels of issue involvement, wildfire risks perceptions, and information seeking behaviors regarding wildfires.
All variables were measured on a 7-point Likert scale, from strongly disagree to strongly agree.
Spatial Presence. Spatial presence was measured using five items adapted from Nowak & Biocca’s (200363) scale: “How involving was the video experience?”, “How intense was the video experience?”, “To what extent did you feel like you were inside the environment you saw and heard?”, “To what extent did you feel immersed in the wildfire issues you saw and heard?”, “To what extent did you feel surrounded by the environment you saw and heard?” (M = 5.21, SD = 1.39, Cronbach’s α = 0.93).
Perceptions of Wildfire Risks Perceptions of wildfire risks were measured with five items adapted from Cahyanto et al.’s (201664) scale: “To what extent do you feel concerned about the effects of wildfire?”, “How serious do you feel the negative consequences of wildfires are to you personally?”, “How vulnerable do you feel about the possibility of wildfire physically affecting you or your family?”, “How vulnerable do you feel about the possibility of wildfire affecting your property and/or possessions?”, and “How severe will the impact of a wildfire be where you live?” (M = 4.31, SD = 1.41, Cronbach’s α = 0.85).
Information Seeking Behavior. Information seeking behavior was measured with four items adapted from Kellens et al., (201265) that asked to what extent participants intended to search for more information on “possible consequences of a wildfire”, “measures that the government is employing to cope with wildfire surges”, “possible escape routes in case of threatening wildfires”, and “safe locations in the neighborhood in the event of a wildfire” (M = 4.06, SD = 1.68, Cronbach’s α = 0.92).
Negative Affect. Negative affect was measured using four items adapted from Yang et al. (2014), assessing the degree to which the videos about wildfires made participants feel worried, sad, anxious, and fearful: “Information about wildfires worries me”, “Information about wildfires makes me feel sad”, “Information about wildfires makes me feel anxious”, and “Information about climate change makes me feel fear” (M = 4.70, SD = 1.45, Cronbach’s α = 0.86).
Issue Involvement. Issue involvement was measured using a scale developed by Ahn et al. (2016). Participants were asked to rate how important, of concern, relevant, meaningful, of matter, and involving the issue of wildfire preparedness was to them (M = 4.39, SD = 1.53, Cronbach’s α = 0.95).
The final sample size of our study was 400. An independent sample t-test was used to evaluate whether the experimental manipulation worked in each condition. One-way ANOVA was used to examine the effect of the experimental manipulation on sense of spatial presence. Pearson’s correlation was used to examine whether negative affect, issue involvement, and wildfire risks perception positively related to information seeking behaviors. In order to test the mediation hypotheses, RMediation (Tofighi & MacKinnon, 201166) was used to assess each mediated effect.
This study was approved by the University of Texas[ at Austin Office of Research Support & Compliance Review Board on March 11, 2021.]( at Austin Office of Research Support & Compliance Review Board on March 11, 2021.)
Viewing 360-degree Videos and Spatial Presence
One-way ANOVA analysis found that participants in the 360-degree condition perceived greater feelings of spatial presence (M = 5.60, SD = 1.23) when compared to those in the unidirectional condition (M = 4.82, SD = 1.44), F (1, 398) = 34.56, p < 0.01). Therefore, Hypothesis 1 was supported.
The RMediation package (Tofighi & MacKinnon, 2011) was employed to investigate Hypothesis 2a that the 360-degree videos affect participants’ negative affect through sense of spatial presence. The RMediation package provides functions to compute confidence intervals, percentiles, and quartiles for the distribution of the product of two normal random variables and mediated effect (Tofighi & MacKinnon, 2011). The RMediation package employs three methods (the distribution-of-product approach, the Monte Carlo method, and the AND method) for producing confidence intervals for the product of two normal random variables (i.e., mediated effects) (Tofighi & MacKinnon, 2011). The RMediation analysis indicated that the 360-degree videos (vs. unidirectional videos) indirectly influenced participants’ negative affect through a sense of spatial presence (ab = -0.25, distribution of products 95% CI = (-0.37, -0.14), p < 0.05). The indirect effect was significant, indicating that Hypothesis 2a was supported.
The Pearson’s correlation analysis was used to examine Hypothesis 2b. The results indicated that participants’ negative affect was positively related to their information seeking behaviors regarding wildfires (r = 0.47, t (398) = 10.51, p < 0.01). Hypothesis 2b was supported.
The RMediation package (Tofighi & MacKinnon, 2011) was used to examine Hypothesis 3a that 360-degree videos affect issue involvement through sense of spatial presence. The results indicated that the 360-degree videos (vs. unidirectional videos) indirectly influenced participants’ perceived issue involvement through sense of spatial presence (ab = -0.32, distribution of products 95% CI = (-0.46, -0.19), p < 0.05). The indirect effect was significant, indicating that Hypothesis 3a was supported.
To examine Hypothesis 3b, this study employed Pearson’s correlation. The results indicated that issue involvement was positively related to information seeking behaviors regarding wildfires (r = 0.65, t (398) = 16.85, p < 0.01). Hypothesis 3b was supported.
Wildfire Risk Perceptions
The RMediation package (Tofighi & MacKinnon, 2011) was used to examine Hypothesis 4a that 360-degree videos affect participants’ wildfire risk perceptions through the sense of spatial presence. The analysis results indicated that the 360-degree videos (vs. unidirectional videos) indirectly affected wildfire risk perceptions through a sense of spatial presence (ab = -0.27, distribution of products 95% CI = (-0.40, -0.16), p < 0.05). Hypothesis 4a was supported, indicating that 360-degree videos influenced participants’ perceived wildfire risks through a sense of spatial presence.
To examine Hypothesis 4b, this study employed the Pearson’s correlation. The analysis results indicated that wildfire risk perceptions were positively related to participants’ information seeking behaviors regarding wildfires (r = 0.61, t (398) = 15.44, p < 0.01). Hypothesis 4b was supported.
Implications for Practice
One of the biggest challenges in wildfire communication is that audiences may not attend to the messages. Our results showed that 360-degree videos direct audiences’ attention to the wildfire information by eliciting the sense of spacial presence. We found that the mediated effect of spatial presence on influencing individuals’ negative affect, which ultimately affects individuals’ risk information seeking behaviors. Instead of using traditional media functions (i.e., 2D videos, print media, radio broadcasting, etc.) to inform publics about wildfire preparedness, our study suggested that using 360-degree videos would more effectively motivate publics to seek relevant information.
Sometimes wildfire information is too complex for lay audiences to use sensibly. Information may be difficult for audiences because it contains complex concepts or numeric information that can be hard to read and understand. To combat complexity, we would suggest wildfire information would be better represented with visual displays, such as 360-degree videos, to attract audiences’ attention quickly unambiguously. Being located in the virtual wildfire events created by 360-degree videos, viewers would experience greater spatial presence that leads to higher levels of negative affect. When publics feel more worried or more anxious, they would attend to the messages and be more likely to remember the information.
Our study supported claims that negative affect can directly influence an individual's risk information seeking behaviors in the context of natural-disaster communication. When risk communicators design messages, they could use content components which elicit viewers’ negative emotions. It is expected that publics’ increased focus on negative emotional information makes the visual displays more attention grabbing. This is particularly true if the wildfire information is negative andesses some of the socio-emotional goals that are salient to the audience. When audiences feel the wildfire issue is relevant and important, they would be more likely to seek wildfire information. To effectively communicate with the public about wildfire preparedness, our study suggests that communicators emphasize imagery and visualization strategies to increase the public’s issue involvement and ultimately motivate people to seek information regarding wildfires.
Our study emphasized that in the natural-disaster focused communication, risk perception also plays an important role in individuals’ information seeking behaviors. Differences in risk perception often cause disagreements between technical experts and the general public about the best courses of action to deal with a risk (Slovic, 199767). Although experts often take risk assessments as objective and rational, the general public rely more on their own, varied, subjective perceptions of risks (ter Huurne, 2009). Individuals may vary in their susceptibility to harm and the severity of possible outcomes of wildfire events. Poor risk judgement or decision-making processes are particularly worrisome because individuals have just minutes to evacuate when wildfires move quickly through residential communities. Reliable and valid assessment of individuals’ decision-making are paramount in the wildfire preparedness stage. Using 360-degree videos delivers wildfire-related information that makes individuals more likely to perceive the wildfire risks appropriately, minimizing the chances of disagreement happening between technical experts and the general public.
Limitations and Strengths
The current study did not detect direct effects of the 360-degree feature on negative affect, issue involvement, and risk perceptions. That means the video forms didn’t demonstrate a significant difference in affecting individuals’ negative affect, issue involvement and risk perceptions. In keeping with previous studies, we relied on self-reported level of interaction with the 360-degree videos. Although participants in the 360-degree condition responded they used the 360-degree features while interacting with the videos, it remains unclear how much they actually interacted with the 360-degree videos. Extant research about 360-degree videos has relied on self-reported interactions with the videos. Future studies should address this limitation by monitoring the participants’ interactions with the 360-degree videos.
Although our study has some limitations, the present study shows the strengths in three aspects. First, our study sample size (N = 400) is larger than the existing 360-degree videos research. Many 360-degree studies stated that their study results were limited due the small sample size. In social science research, inadequate sample size can lead to the introduction of errors into the final findings (Bolarinwa, 202068).
Second, there is limited scholarly research exploring the effects of immersive media in disaster-focused communication. Our study addressed the research gap by investigating the role of 360-degree videos in communicating with publics about wildfire preparedness. By introducing theories of immersive media, the results revealed the cognitive mechanisms of 360-degree videos on influencing individuals’ information seeking behaviors. By unpacking the umbrella term perceived hazard characteristics of the RISP model, our study found that issue involvement and perceived risk are two important domains in affecting individuals risk information seeking. Our study results provided a possible explanation of the operational definition of the perceived hazard characteristics.
Third, our study found a practical approach for communicators to deliver wildfire risk information. We found improved messaging via 360-degree videos could increase audience’ involvement with wildfire preparedness, making proper risk assessments, and motivating the public to seek wildfire information. Instead of using traditional media approaches, 360-degree video provided a more effective approach to communicate with the general public about wildfire preparedness.
The present study investigated the mediated role of spatial presence in affecting the wildfire information seeking behaviors. Future studies could focus on exploring other mediated variables (i.e., message elaboration, emotional arousal, interactivity, etc.) to further parse out the cognitive mechanisms of how 360-degree videos influence audiences’ risk information processing and seeking.
The present study found that negative affect has a positive influence on risk information seeking behaviors. However, some studies found that extreme fear may backfire and bring out defensive response from individuals (O’Neill & Nicholson-Cole, 200969). Future studies can examine to what extant negative-appeal messages and visuals provide the best practices for communicating with the audiences.
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