The social impact of volcanic eruptions is determined by the style and variance of the volcanic activity and the pre-existing or changing awareness, preparedness, and vulnerabilities of the affected population. As well as immediate loss of life and damage to infrastructure, negative outcomes as a consequence of social responses to volcanic activity include livelihood degradation; widespread distrust of risk managers and scientists; trauma; risk-taking behaviour; damaging migration; and social or cultural degradation.
These negative outcomes are modulated through vulnerabilities introduced by individual perception and knowledge; local and regional governance, livelihood issues, and pre-existing poverty; cultural or religious attitudes; and demographic characteristics (i.e., women, the very young, and very old can be disproportionately vulnerable).
Positive outcomes are encouraged by clear communication pathways with good emergency warnings, preemptory information and education, and longer-term dialogue between those at risk and those responsible for monitoring or managing that risk. Poor communication pathways, where competing messages and/or a loss of trust occur, are less likely to invoke a positive outcome.
Several case studies are summarized to illustrate the interaction between these social processes and past volcanic activity. Negative outcomes are rarely attributed to one single cause but rather interacting social and physical components. Currently, further research is needed in many of these areas to provide more evidence for the most effective means to improve social resilience to volcanic activity.