Discovery Channel features Dominican's `Disasterman'

Psychology Professor Dr. Matt Davis -- known around campus as “Disasterman” -- is one of the experts featured in the Discovery Channel’s new Curiosity series.

Matt Davis 2009An interview with Davis is included in the episode titled “Could We Survive an Alien Attack?” The episode brings together top scientists and military strategists to dramatize what would happen if aliens attacked the earth. The episode will air this month on the Discovery Channel.

Watch the episode on Dominican's YouTube channel.

Davis’ research examines how people prepare for and react to natural disasters. Although the complete interview for the documentary was not included in the abbreviated American version of the documentary - a two-hour version aired on Discovery Channel UK in May - Davis shared some of his insights into human behavior in the event that such an unimaginable scenario might occur. 

When asked how the public would react to the threat of alien invasion, Davis noted that the threat of disaster would draw people together.

“When faced with a common enemy, people tend to come together,” Davis says. “An attack like the one described in the Discovery Channel documentary might actually result in various nations of the world working together to combat the aliens.”

Davis also noted that in times of disaster, while anti-social behavior does occur (looting, panic, etc.), pro-social or altruistic behaviors are far more the norm.

“In the aftermath of such devastating attacks as the one portrayed in the documentary, for survivors, the human spirit is likely to go on and there will be some who will not give up,” he says.

“In the original interview, I cited Viktor Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning about his experiences in Nazi concentration camps and how even under the most horrific conditions, people like Frankl survived by finding meaning in even the smaller or most mundane aspects of life and that this kept their spirits alive.”

Davis teaches courses in social psychology, social influence, statistics and research, human sexuality, media psychology, and a specialty course called “Natural Disasters: Societal & Individual Reactions to Risk.”

He has completed two large-scale research projects on public awareness of volcanic hazards in the vicinity of Mt. Vesuvius in Italy, as well as studies of risk perception for volcanic hazards at Mt. Rainier, Washington, and tsunami hazards along the northern California coast.

Most recently he has been involved in research evaluating the psychological effects of participating in "Get Ready Marin" and CERT disaster preparedness training sessions here in Marin County.

Meanwhile, Davis and his work are featured in a new online venture just launched to help citizens, journalists, and governments monitor and prepare for natural disasters.

DisasterTV features 10 episodes of edited lectures by Dr. Davis in his “Natural Disasters” class. The half-hour segments were filmed and edited by Eugene Rinehart, who graduated from Dominican in 2011 with a major in communications.

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