Protection Motivation Theory (PMT), Risk of Drowning, and Water Safety Perceptions of Adult Caregivers/Parents

Kevin Moran1, *, Jonathon Webber2, Teresa Stanley3
1 Faculty of Education, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
2 Department of Anaesthesiology, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
3 Research Manager, WaterSafe Auckland Inc (WAI), Auckland, New Zealand

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Creative Commons License
2018 Moran et al

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Principal Lecturer in Health and Physical Education, Faculty of Education, The University of Auckland, Private Bag 92601, Symonds Street, Auckland, New Zealand; Tel: +64 (9) 623 8899; Ext: 48620; Fax: +64 (9) 623 8898; Mobile: +6422 090 7726; E-mail:



While the circumstances surrounding drowning incidents in high income countries are well known, little is known about how members of the public perceive the risk of drowning and their role in drowning prevention.


The purpose of the study was to analyze caregiver/parent perceptions of the risk of drowning in terms of risk (threat) appraisal processes and coping appraisal processes.


This study utilized Protection Motivation Theory (PMT) to analyse parent’s perception of the risk of drowning as part of an evaluation of a water safety program. Participants (N = 174) completed a pre-intervention survey that sought information on their water competency, open water experience, previous instruction, and perceptions of drowning risk.


In terms of risk appraisal processes, more females, Asian peoples, and those with lower self-reported swimming and rescue competency perceived greater severity of drowning risk and greater vulnerability to that risk when swimming in open water. In terms of coping appraisal processes, males, non-Asian peoples and those with self-reported good swimming and rescue competencies were more likely to report confidence in the self-efficacy of their preventive actions.


Considerable variations in risk (threat) appraisal and coping appraisal processes in respect of the risk of drowning were evident. The implications of the findings on water safety education are discussed. Ways of promoting water safety and drowning prevention are examined and recommendations for future research studies to address limitations of the study are made.

Keywords: Bystander rescue, Drowning prevention, Protection Motivation Theory (PMT), Risk of drowning, Swimming competency, Water safety.