The Roles of Perceived Uncertainty of Crisis Responsibility and Attribution-based Crisis Emotions on Publics’ Information Seeking about an Organizational Crisis

Abstract: Uncertainty is one of the key characteristics of an organizational crisis that needs to be addressed in an organization’s crisis responses. Although a large body of uncertainty research has been conducted in risk communication, there are limited uncertainty focused studies in organizational communication. To close this knowledge gap, this study examined how perceived uncertainty about organizational crisis responsibility and the publics’ felt crisis emotions, based on varied responsibility attribution, might impact publics’ crisis information seeking. Findings from survey responses from 817 U.S. adults revealed the following: First, perceived uncertainty was negatively correlated to attribution-independent (AI) emotions (i.e., anxiety, fear, apprehension, and sympathy) and external-attribution-dependent (EAD) emotions (i.e., disgust, contempt, anger, and sadness), but positively correlated to internal-attribution-dependent (IAD) emotions (i.e., guilt, embarrassment, and shame). Second, perceived uncertainty and AI emotions were positive predictors for crisis information seeking. Third, AI emotions and IAD emotions were parallel mediators for the relationship between perceived uncertainty and crisis information seeking. Implications for uncertainty, crisis responsibility attribution, crisis emotions, and organizational crisis communication research and practice are discussed.