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Vulnerability refers to the inability (of a system or a unit) to withstand the effects of a hostile environment. A window of vulnerability (WOV) is a time frame within which defensive measures are diminished, compromised or lacking.[1]

The understanding of social and environmental vulnerability, as a methodological approach, involves the analysis of the risks and assets of disadvantaged groups, such as the elderly. The approach of vulnerability in itself brings great expectations of social policy and gerontological planning.[2][3] Types of vulnerability include social, cognitive, environmental, emotional or military.

In relation to hazards and disasters, vulnerability is a concept that links the relationship that people have with their environment to social forces and institutions and the cultural values that sustain and contest them. “The concept of vulnerability expresses the multi-dimensionality of disasters by focusing attention on the totality of relationships in a given social situation which constitute a condition that, in combination with environmental forces, produces a disaster”.[4] It is also the extent to which changes could harm a system, or to which the community can be affected by the impact of a hazard or exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally: "we were in a vulnerable position".

Within the body of literature related to vulnerability, major research streams include questions of methodology, such as: measuring and assessing vulnerability, including finding appropriate indicators for various aspects of vulnerability, up- and down scaling methods, and participatory methods.[5][clarification needed] Vulnerability research covers a complex, multidisciplinary field including development and poverty studies, public health, climate studies, security studies, engineering, geography, political ecology, and disaster risk management.[6] This research is of importance and interest for organizations trying to reduce vulnerability[7] – especially as related to poverty and other Millennium Development Goals. Many institutions are conducting interdisciplinary research on vulnerability. A forum that brings many of the current researchers on vulnerability together is the Expert Working Group (EWG). Researchers are currently working to refine definitions of “vulnerability”, measurement and assessment methods, and effective communication of research to decision makers.[8][9]



In its sense, social vulnerability is one dimension of vulnerability to multiple stressors (agent responsible for stress) and shocks, including abuse, social exclusion and natural hazards. Social vulnerability refers to the inability of people, organizations, and societies to withstand adverse impacts from multiple stressors to which they are exposed. These impacts are due in part to characteristics inherent in social interactions, institutions, and systems of cultural values.[10][11] It was also found that marital status, employment and income have an impact on the level of vulnerability presented in individuals.[12] In this respect, there is a need to place an increased emphasis on assets and entitlements for understanding ‘catastrophe’ as opposed to solely the strength or severity of shocks.[13] The capacity of individuals, communities and systems to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of stress and shocks, and even transform when conditions require it. Building resilience is about making people, communities and systems better prepared to withstand catastrophic events—both natural and manmade—and able to bounce back more quickly and emerge stronger from these shocks and stresses.[14]


A cognitive vulnerability, in cognitive psychology, is an erroneous belief, cognitive bias, or pattern of thought that is believed to predispose the individual to psychological problems.[15] It is in place before the symptoms of psychological disorders start to appear, such as high neuroticism,[16] and after the individual encounters a stressful experience, the cognitive vulnerability shapes a maladaptive response that may lead to a psychological disorder.[15] In psychopathology, cognitive vulnerability is constructed from schema models, hopelessness models, and attachment theory.[17] The attachment theory states that humans need to develop a close bond with their caregivers. When there is a disruption in the child-parent bonding relationship may be associated with cognitive vulnerability and depression.[18] Attentional bias is one mechanism leading to faulty cognitive bias that leads to cognitive vulnerability. Allocating a danger level to a threat depends on the urgency or intensity of the threshold. Anxiety is not associated with selective orientation.[19]

Environmental or climate change[edit]

Climate change vulnerability (or climate vulnerability or climate risk vulnerability) is an assessment of vulnerability to climate change used in discussion of society's response to climate change, for processes like climate change adaptation, evaluations of climate risk or in determining climate justice concerns. Climate vulnerability can include a wide variety of different meanings, situations and contexts in climate change research, but has been a central concept in academic research since 2005.[20] The concept was defined in the third IPCC report as "the degree to which a system is susceptible to, and unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes".[21]: 89 


The definition of vulnerability by Brene Brown, is "uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure". Brown goes on to suggest that vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage: to be vulnerable, to allow ourselves to be seen.[22] Vulnerability is typically thought of as the center of emotions such as: grief, shame, fear, disappointment; but it is also the center and birthplace of love, belonging, authenticity, creativity, courage, and accountability.[23] Selective reinforcement and modeling has been used to help children from a young age learn how to regulate their emotions. This helps children to learn to be accountable for their emotions. Unpleasant emotional states are managed by their subjective discomfort.[24] Emotional vulnerability is also impacted by respondents that expressed feelings of sadness about the uncertainty of climate change.[25] Increase in awareness and impact leads to heightened emotional responses. Emotional vulnerability can affect older adults in their physical well-being when suppressing their emotions in highly distressing situations.[26] When these vulnerabilities are supported and processed through conversation with an emotionally safe 'other', this vulnerability can lead to resilience and the capacity to support others.[27] High levels of emotional reliance can lead to depression.[citation needed]


In military terminology, vulnerability is a subset of survivability, the others being susceptibility and recoverability. Vulnerability is defined in various ways depending on the nation and service arm concerned, but in general it refers to the near-instantaneous effects of a weapon attack. In aviation it is defined as the inability of an aircraft to withstand the damage caused by the man-made hostile environment.[28] In some definitions, recoverability (damage control, firefighting, restoration of capability) is included in vulnerability. Some military services develop their own concept of vulnerability.[29]


Invulnerability is a common feature found in science fiction and fantasy, in particular in superhero fiction, as depicted commonly in novels, comic books and video games. In such stories, it is a quality that makes a character impervious to pain, damage or loss of health.

In video games, it can be found in the form of "power-ups" or cheats; when activated via cheats, it is often referred to as "god mode". Generally, it does not protect the player from certain instant-death hazards, most notably "bottomless" pits from which, even if the player were to survive the fall, they would be unable to escape. As a rule, invulnerability granted by power-ups is temporary, and wears off after a set amount of time, while invulnerability cheats, once activated, remain in effect until deactivated, or the end of the level is reached. "Depending on the game in question, invulnerability to damage may or may not protect the player from non-damage effects, such as being immobilized or sent flying."[30]

In mythology, talismans, charms, and amulets were created by magic users for the purpose of making the wearer immune to injury from both mystic and mundane weapons.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "KBpedia: Vulnerability Reference Concept". KBpedia. Retrieved 2019-11-21.
  2. ^ Sanchez-Gonzalez, D.; Egea-Jimenez, C. (2011). "Social Vulnerability approach to investigate the social and environmental disadvantages. Its application in the study of elderly people". Pap. Poblac. 17 (69): 151–185.
  3. ^ Sanchez-Gonzalez, D (2015). "Physical-social environments and aging population from environmental gerontology and geography. Socio-spatial implications in Latin America". Revista de Geografía Norte Grande. 60 (60): 97–114. doi:10.4067/S0718-34022015000100006.
  4. ^ Bankoff, Greg; et al. (2004). Mapping Vulnerability: Disasters, Development and People. London: Earth scan.
  5. ^ Villa-gran, Juan Carlos. "Vulnerability: A conceptual and methodological review." SOURCE. No. 2/2006. Bonn, Germany.
  6. ^ Rumpf, Clemens M.; Lewis, Hugh G.; Atkinson, Peter M. (2017-03-27). "Population vulnerability models for asteroid impact risk assessment". Meteoritics & Planetary Science. 52 (6): 1082–1102. arXiv:1702.05798. doi:10.1111/maps.12861. ISSN 1086-9379. S2CID 49320450.
  7. ^ "Promotion of Roma's access to Education [Social Impact]. WORKALÓ. The creation of new occupational patterns for cultural minorities: the Gypsy Case (2001-2004). Framework Programme 5 (FP5)". SIOR, Social Impact Open Repository.
  8. ^ Birkmann, Joern (editor). 2006. Measuring Vulnerability to Natural Hazards – Towards Disaster Resilient Societies. UNU Press.
  9. ^ Wolters, M., Kuenzer, C., 2015: Vulnerability Assessments of Coastal River Deltas – Categorization and Review. Journal of Coastal Conservation, DOI exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally. 10.1007/s11852-015-0396-6
  10. ^ Luis Flores Ballesteros. "What determines a disaster?" 54 Pesos May. 2008:54 Pesos 11 Sep 2008. Archived 2012-03-20 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ See also Daniel R. Curtis, 'Pre-industrial societies and strategies for the exploitation of resources. A theoretical framework for understanding why some settlements are resilient and some settlements are vulnerable to crisis',
  12. ^ Turner, Heather A.; Turner, R. Jay (December 1999). "Gender, Social Status, and Emotional Reliance". Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 40 (4): 360–373. doi:10.2307/2676331. JSTOR 2676331. PMID 10643161.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Wells, Linton (2017). "Cognitive-Emotional Conflict: Adversary Will and Social Resilience". PRISM. 7 (2): 4–17. ISSN 2157-0663. JSTOR 26470514.
  15. ^ a b Riskind, John H.; Black, David (2005). "Cognitive Vulnerability". In Freeman, Arthur; Felgoise, Stephanie H.; et al. (eds.). Encyclopedia of Cognitive Behavior Therapy. New York: Springer. pp. 122–26. ISBN 9781429411738.
  16. ^ Jeronimus B.F.; Kotov, R.; Riese, H.; Ormel, J. (2016). "Neuroticism's prospective association with mental disorders halves after adjustment for baseline symptoms and psychiatric history, but the adjusted association hardly decays with time: a meta-analysis on 59 longitudinal/prospective studies with 443 313 participants". Psychological Medicine. 46 (14): 2883–2906. doi:10.1017/S0033291716001653. PMID 27523506. S2CID 23548727.
  17. ^ Ingram, Rick (February 2003). "Origins of Cognitive Vulnerability to Depression" (PDF). Cognitive Therapy and Research. 27 (1): 77–88. doi:10.1023/a:1022590730752. ISSN 0147-5916. S2CID 16148365.
  18. ^ Lawton, M. Powell (1980). "Psychological Vulnerability". IRB: Ethics & Human Research. 2 (8): 5–7. ISSN 0193-7758. JSTOR 3563995.
  19. ^ Mathews, Andrew; MacLeod, Colin (1 April 2005). "Cognitive Vulnerability to Emotional Disorders". Annual Review of Clinical Psychology. 1 (1): 167–195. doi:10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.1.102803.143916. PMID 17716086.
  20. ^ Füssel, Hans-Martin (2005-12-01). "Vulnerability in Climate Change Research: A Comprehensive Conceptual Framework". Archived from the original on 2021-04-17. Retrieved 2020-12-26. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  21. ^ IPCC (2007a). "Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Core Writing Team, Pachauri, R.K and Reisinger, A. (eds.))". IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland. Archived from the original on 2018-11-02. Retrieved 2009-05-20.
  22. ^ Brown, Brene (2019). Braving the Wilderness: the Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. Sounds True. p. 154.
  23. ^ Brown, Brene (2012). The power of vulnerability. Sounds True.
  24. ^ Thompson, Ross A. (1991). "Emotional Regulation and Emotional Development". Educational Psychology Review. 3 (4): 269–307. doi:10.1007/bf01319934. ISSN 1040-726X. JSTOR 23359228. S2CID 3560960.
  25. ^ Bray, Margaret V. du; Wutich, Amber; Brewis, Alexandra (2017-04-01). "Hope and Worry: Gendered Emotional Geographies of Climate Change in Three Vulnerable U.S. Communities". Weather, Climate, and Society. 9 (2): 285–297. doi:10.1175/WCAS-D-16-0077.1. ISSN 1948-8327.
  26. ^ Charles, Susan T.; Luong, Gloria (2013). "Emotional Experience Across Adulthood: The Theoretical Model of Strength and Vulnerability Integration". Current Directions in Psychological Science. 22 (6): 443–448. doi:10.1177/0963721413497013. ISSN 0963-7214. JSTOR 44318703. S2CID 145454712.
  27. ^ Kieft, Jasmine and Bendell, Jem (2021) The responsibility of communicating difficult truths about climate influenced societal disruption and collapse: an introduction to psychological research. Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) Occasional Papers Volume 7. University of Cumbria, Ambleside, UK..(Unpublished)
  28. ^ Ball, Robert (2003). The Fundamentals of Aircraft Combat Survivability Analysis and Design, 2nd Edition. AIAA Education Series. p. 603. ISBN 978-1-56347-582-5.
  29. ^ Carlo, Kopp (5 July 2005). "Warship Vulnerability".
  30. ^ Madigan, Michael L (2017). Handbook of Emergency Management Concepts: A Step-by-Step Approach. CRC Press. ISBN 978-1351337472.
  31. ^ William Godwin (1876). "Lives of the Necromancers". p. 17.

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