Introducing the Situational Q-sort to Crisis Practice and Research: Exploring best practices and implications

Karen J. Freberg, Kristin C. Saling, Laura A. Freberg


Crisis communicators face many obstacles while engaging with impacted audiences during a crisis.  Communicators must determine when, how, and where to disseminate effective crisis messages. Most research on crisis communication message strategies has involved experiments, content analysis of published media (traditional and social) through monitoring platforms, interviews, and questionnaires. However, the recently developed Riverside Situational Q-sort (RSQ; Funder et al., 2012; Sherman, Nave, & Funder, 2010) provides a novel method for quantifying subjective impressions of any situation. The RSQ as a methodology provides a window of opportunity for researchers as well as an effective tool for practitioners for determining what messages are most effective for a given situation. This paper provides an overview of the crisis communication methodologies already implemented, discussion related to preliminary results using the RSQ (Freberg, Saling, & Freberg, 2013), and best practices and implications for practitioners and researchers to note when implementing this method in their crisis message strategies.


crisis; Riverside Situational Q-sort

Full Text:



Anderson, N. H. (1971). Integration theory and attitude change. Psychological Review,78, 171-206.

Bergeron, C. D., & Cooren, F. (2012). The collective framing of crisis management: A ventriloqual analysis of emergency operations centres. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 20(3), 120-137. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-5973.2012.00671.x

Block. J. (2008). The Q-sort in character appraisal: Encoding subjective impressions of persons quantitatively. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Brown, S. R. (1993). A primer on Q methodology. Operant Subjectivity, 16, 91-138.

Burt, C. (1937). Correlations between persons. British Journal of Psychology, 28, 59-96.

Burt, C. (1940). The factors of the mind: An introduction to factor-analysis in psychology. London, UK: University of London Press.

Coombs, W. T., & Holladay, S. J. (2008). Comparing apology to equivalent crisis response strategies: Clarifying apology’s role and value in crisis communication. Public Relations Review, 34, 252–257.

Coombs, W.T., & Holladay, S.J. (2015) Public relations’ “relationship identity” in research: Enlightenment or illusion. Public Relations Review.

Easterling, K. J., & Freberg, L. A. (2012). Perceptions of juvenile and adult offenders. Poster presented at the 24th annual convention of the Association for Psychological Science, May 24-27, 2012, Chicago, IL.

Fishbein, M. (1967). A behavioral theory approach to the relations between beliefs about an object and attitude toward that object. In M.

Fishbein (Ed.), Readings in attitude theory and measurement (pp. 389-400). New York: Wiley.

Freberg, K. (2012a). Using the Theory of Planned Behavior to predict intention to comply with a food recall message. Health Communication, 28(4), 359-365. doi: 10.1080/10410236.2012.688657

Freberg, K. (2012b). Intention to comply with crisis messages communicated via social media. Public Relations Review, 38(3), 416-421.

Freberg, K., Adams, R., McGaughey, K. J., Rust, M. J., Blume, M. J., Menon, A., …Freberg, L. A. (2010). Leaders or snakes in suits? Student perceptions of the characteristics of CEOs and psychopaths. Poster presented at the 22nd annual convention of the Association for Psychological Science, May 27-30, 2010, Boston, MA.

Freberg, K., Graham (Saling), K., McGaughey, K., & Freberg, L. A. (2010). Who are the social media influencers? A study of public perceptions of personality. Public Relations Review, 37, 90-92.

Freberg, K. J., Graham (Saling), K. C., Murphy, D., Park, K., Rainey, J., Singh, G., … Freberg, L. A. (2011). Reverse engineering leadership. Poster presented at the 23rd annual

convention of the Association for Psychological Science, May 26-29, 2011, Washington, D.C.

Freberg, K., Saling, K., & Freberg, L. (2013). Using a situational q-sort to assess perceptions of a food recall message as a function of delivery via social, organizational or traditional media. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 21(4), 225-230. doi: 10.1111/1468-5973.12026

Funder, D. C., Guillaume, E., Kumagai, S., Kawamoto, S., & Sato, T. (2012). The person-situation debate and the assessment of situations. Japanese Journal of Personality, 21, 1-11.

Honeycutt, N., & Stern, S. (2012). Using the California Q-sort (CAQ) to compare Republicans and Democrats. Poster presented at the 93rd annual convention of the Western Psychological Association, April 26-29, 2012, Burlingame, CA.

International Society for the Scientific Study of Subjectivity (ISSSS; 2015). Q methodology: A method for modern research. Retrieved from

Lachlan, K. A., & Spence, P. R. (2007). Hazard and outrage: Developing a psychometric instrument in the aftermath of Katrina. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 35(1), 109-123.

Lewin, K. (1936). Principles of topological psychology. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T., Jr. (1996). Toward a new generation of personality theories: Theoretical contexts for the five-factor model. In J. S. Wiggins (Ed.), The five-factor model of personality: Theoretical perspectives (pp. 51-87). New York: Guilford.

Ott, L., & Theunissen, P. (2014). Reputations at risk: Engagement during social media crises. Public Relations Review.

Rauthmann, J. F., Gallardo-Pujol, D., Guillaume, E. M., Todd, E., Nave, C. S., Sherman, R. A., …Funder, D. C. (2014). The situational eight DIAMONDS: A taxonomy of major dimensions of situation characteristics. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107(4), 677-718. doi: 10.1037/a0037250

Reise, S. P., & Oliver, C. J. (1994). Development of a California Q-set indicator of primary psychopathy. Journal of Personality Assessment, 62,,130-144.

Reise, S. P., & Wink, P. (1995). Psychological implications of the psychopathy q-sort. Journal of Personality Assessment, 65(2), 300-312.

Schmolck, P. (2014). The QMethod page. Retrieved from

Sherman, R. A., Nave, C. N., & Funder, D. C. (2010). Situational similarity and personality predict behavioral consistency. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(2), 330-343.

Stephenson, W. (1935). Correlating persons instead of tests. Character and Personality, 4, 17-24.

Van Exel, N. J. A., & de Graaf, G. (2005). Q methodology: A sneak preview. Retrieved from

Wester, M. (2009). Cause and consequences of crises: How perception can influence communication. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 17(2),118-125.

Wink, P. (1991). Two faces of narcissism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61(4), 590-597. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.61.4.590

Wink, P. (1992). Three narcissism scales for the California Q-set. Journal of Personality Assessment, 58(1), 51-66.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2015 Journal of Media Critiques [JMC]