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THE COMMUNICATION PROCESS OF PERSUASION AND FEAR APPEALS

BACHELOR THESIS – COMMUNICATION SCIENCE

Martijn A. Boermans Stellenbosch, South-Africa 19 February 2007


THE COMMUNICATION PROCESS OF PERSUASION AND FEAR APPEALS

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THE COMMUNICATION PROCESS OF PERSUASION AND FEAR APPEALS

BACHELOR THESIS COMMUNICATION SCIENCE

Faculty of Social Science - Free University Amsterdam

Martijn A. Boermans Stellenbosch, 19 February 2007

Supervisor:

A.M. Baars

Word Count : ± 12.500 Contact:

martijnboermans@yahoo.com

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TABLE OF CONTENTS THE COMMUNICATION PROCESS OF PERSUASION AND FEAR APPEALS ..................................... 1 TABLE OF CONTENTS..................................................................................................................................... 2 ABSTRACT............................................................................................................................................................ 3 I. INTRODUCTION............................................................................................................................................ 4 II. PERSUASION AND FEAR APPEALS ......................................................................................................... 6 2.1. PERSUASION.................................................................................................................................................. 6 2.2. INGREDIENTS OF THE PERSUASION PROCESS ................................................................................................ 7 2.3. TWO ROUTES TO PERSUASION ...................................................................................................................... 8 2.4. FEAR APPEALS TECHNIQUES ......................................................................................................................... 9 2.5. FEAR APPEAL MODELS ............................................................................................................................... 10 2.6. FRAMING FEAR APPEALS............................................................................................................................. 13 2.7. HYPOTHESES .............................................................................................................................................. 14 III. METHOD ..................................................................................................................................................... 18 IV. EMPIRICAL FINDINGS ............................................................................................................................ 19 4.1. LEVELS OF FEAR AROUSAL ......................................................................................................................... 19 4.2. THE DEFENSIVE SELF ................................................................................................................................. 21 4.3. EFFICACY EFFECTS ..................................................................................................................................... 23 4.4. UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS ..................................................................................................................... 25 V. DISCUSSION ................................................................................................................................................. 30 VI. REFERENCES ............................................................................................................................................. 34

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ABSTRACT With a literature review, this manuscript outlines current theories on the persuasive communication process and fear appeals. The research question is how, when and why different variables have effect on the workings of fear appeals and their persuasive effectiveness. The persuasion process is marked by changing attitudes and behaviours. The persuasion triangle emphasizes the importance of the self, social relationships and perceived reality in the context of social influence. Persuasive communication highlights that after motivation and ability to process information, two courses of influence are made in a central or peripheral manner. Within this area, fear appeals present an interesting and devious practice to modify thoughts and actions. Fear appeals change attitudes and behavioural intentions by presenting a threat component that arouses fear, combined with an action recommendation that provides a solution to the threatening information. Five fear appeal models are delineated: the drive theory, the parallel response model, the protection motivation theory, the extended parallel process model, and the stage model. After this theoretical framework, empirical research focuses on the effects of the level of fear, defensive mechanisms, efficacy, and emotions in relationship to fear appeals. The implications are summarized and reviewed in the discussion part.

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I. INTRODUCTION “He who has overcome his fears will truly be free.” (Aristoteles, 384-322 BC) Everyday people are confronted with persuasive appeals from society. Persuasive communication is the process in which the sender of persuasive messages attempts to modify certain attitudes or behaviours held by receivers. The sheer number of persuasive communications has grown exponentially over the last decades (Perloff, 2003, p. 5). Mass media campaigns and politics are marked by acts of persuasion. Messages travel faster than ever before due to new media technology, and increased welfare. Further, persuasion is recently institutionalized; professionals employ more subtle and devious persuasive communication techniques (Cialdini, 2003). That is how and why the area of persuasive communications has become more complex and interesting. Fear appeals are but one good example of this trend. Fear is a universal negative emotion, deeply connected to the self (Frijda, 1986). The use of fear arousal in persuasive messages is referred to as fear appeals (Leventhal, 1971). In general, fear appeals are not subtle, but devious techniques designed to lead to persuasion. Fear-induced messages are discerned as fear appeals by two features (Mongeau, 2000; Rogers, 1975). First, fear appeals present dangerous information on a problem with harmful consequences as to induce fear. Second, fear appeals offer solutions, which contain action recommendations. Current findings indicate that fear appeals are effective in making people conscious about their own vulnerability to health hazards and to change their behaviour (Witte & Allen, 2000). However, defensive mechanisms of the self obstruct the effectiveness of fear appeals for the most relevant audience. It is important to understand how, when and why these scare tactics work to persuade the public. Therefore, the research problem addresses the mechanisms underlying fear appeals in the persuasive communication process. The idea underlying fear appeals is that the evoked fear about the harmful consequences motivates people to accept the recommended action. To better appreciate the psychology and the social consequences of fear appeals, it is important to understand under what conditions the use of fear appeals is effective (De Hoog, Stroebe & De Wit, 2004). For instance, Das (2001; 15) questions: ‘Does the arousal of fear about a certain health risk motivate individuals to process health information in a more intensive way?’ In particular, what is the effect of different levels of fear arousal on the persuasiveness of that message? How, when and why do scare tactics enhance or inhibit message persuasiveness? Thus, the research subject is as follows: Research Question: HOW DO PERSUASIVE FEAR COMMUNICATIONS WORK? Consequently, to what extent (how), in which situations (when), and why (cq. mechanisms) are fear appeals effective?

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This thesis is about the persuasion process of fear appeals. Reviewing literature concerning this enquiry will give insight on the effects of fear arousal on attitude and behavioural change. It is important to know what levels of fear the audience will tolerate to persuade them. I explain what is meant by persuasion and fear appeals. I outline different models of fear appeals and afterwards I present empirical evidence concerning different hypotheses on fear appeal effectiveness. I therefore investigate to what extent and in what situations fear appeal mechanisms are a potential method for persuasion. Fear appeal techniques are employed in many health related campaigns, such as AIDS (Witte, 1992c; Rogers & Mewborn, 1976), alcohol (Albarracín, Cohen & Kumkale, 2003; Stainback, & Rogers 1983), cancer (Easterling & Leventhal 1989), drug prevention (Witte & Allen, 2000), smoking (Keller and Block, 1996), and drinking and driving behaviour (Sutton & Hallett 1989; Kohn et al. 1982). People are affected most often by health conditions resulting from their own behaviours, such as smoking, unhealthy diets, insufficient physical exercise and unprotected sex (Stroebe, 2000). People may rely on their own experience with a behaviour what they observe others doing and saying, or what they hear from health professionals (Fazio & Zanna, 1981; Rothman et al., 2006). The examination of the processes underlying the communications of fear appeals is relevant since many advertising agencies and governmental institutions seeks ways of encouraging definite sorts of manners. The answers to the research question should consequently be interesting for senders as well as receivers of persuasive communications. The possibility of employing fear appeals are not endless, and should be undertaken with great care (Snipes et al., 1999). Advertisers can increase interest and persuasiveness of advertisements through the use of a fear appeal under certain restrictions (Hyman and Tansey, 1990; King and Reid, 1990). For example, disease preventions and health promotions eventually depend on the considerate encouragement of effective self-regulation of health-related behaviours (Cameron & Leventhal, 2003; De Ridder & De Wit, 2006). Fear appeals are attractive since it appears that frightful messages surely grab attention and stay activated in memory - even in today’s society in which people are bombarded with information and persuasive appeals. In addition, people seem to better remember and more frequently recall commercials that portray fear (Hyman and Tansey, 1990; Snipes et al. 1999). Communication theories of persuasion provide professionals with invaluable guidance, but only if it is clear in what situations and to what extent investigators can employ fear appeals (Rothman, 2004; Rothman et al., 2006). By integrating scientific literature in a framework, this thesis will complete a new overview of fear appeal mechanisms concerning the level of fear, defensive reactions, efficacy effects and the role of various emotional states. This is relevant because there seems to exist a lack of insight to the most present findings. Thus, I will present a theoretical background first in Chapter II. In Chapter III I briefly describe where the scientific researches were found for the empirical overview of Chapter IV. Afterwards, Chapter V will discuss further remarks on fear appeal investigations. Finally, Chapter VI presents a reference list of the literature employed for this manuscript.

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II. PERSUASION AND FEAR APPEALS “Men must learn to understand the motives of human beings, their illusions, and their sufferings.” (Albert Einstein, 1931) In this part I outline what persuasive communication is. Based on the persuasion triangle, a framework is developed in which attitude, affect, behaviour and cognitions form the fundamental ingredients to the persuasive outcome. Next, I stress the importance of the dual route of persuasive information processing. After this overview on persuasion, I elaborate on the main subject: fear appeals.

2.1. Persuasion In persuasive communication the sender’s intention is to influence the receiver goal - attitude and behaviour - but to be persuasive the receiver is required to make a decision to change his mind (Severin & Tankard, 2001). Thus, persuasive communication does not utilize coercion to achieve the goals of the sender, instead the persuader wishes to convince the receiver by social influence, where the receiver can (conscious or unconsciously) accept or reject the sender’s request (Perloff, 2003). Fear is a strong mechanism since a person threatened will feel an automatic urge to relief the danger. As Cialdini and Goldstein (2004) claim, the main processes underlying people’s susceptibility to persuasion are considered by three goals (see also: Cialdini & Trost, 1998). I call these fundamental goals for rewarding human behaviour the persuasion triangle. This triangle consists of three main goals that motivate human behaviour (see table one). First, people maintain a favourable self-concept. Secondly, people preserve social relationships. Thirdly, people form accurate perceptions of reality and react accordingly. These three means to persuasion – which resemble aspects of communication interactionism (see Solomon, Bamossy & Askegraad, 2002, p. 159) - are defined by a person’s motivation and ability to process persuasive messages. The three goals act together (again: interaction) with external appeals to engender influences that are predominantly subtle, indirect and outside of awareness (Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004). Thus, the forces within the triangle interact with the routes to persuasion. When developing a fear appeal, the relevant target (problem and/or solution) should be chosen from this triangle. For example, the threat component of a fear appeal can be directed towards either the self (e.g. ‘you will die if you don’t do this’), social relationships (e.g. ‘your girlfriend will get pregnant if you don’t use a condom’) or to real dangers (such as terrorism, world poverty, or global warming; e.g. ‘dim the lights when you leave the room, the world may not last forever without your cooperation’). Keller and Block (1996) suggest that when the appeal consequences are directed toward the self rather than to others, self-reference appeal are more effective than when referenced to others. However, other circumstances might change the effectiveness of a certain type of message frame. In conclusion, fear appeals must target one or more of the fundamental goals of the recipients in order to persuade.

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2.2. Ingredients of the Persuasion Process The foremost important ingredient of persuasive communication is attitude (Crano & Prislin, 2006). Attitudes are held towards certain objects and typical situations. As defined, persuasive communication aims to modify attitudes (for review, see Wood, 2000). Attitudes represent lasting, general evaluations of objects which people hold as a force or quality of mind. They form an enduring system of emotional feelings towards objects and are positive or negative evaluations of that object (Holland et al. 2002). In general, messages that contain strong arguments are more persuasive than messages with weak arguments (e.g. Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). Characteristics of attitude strengths outlined in a meta-analysis by Cooke and Sheeran (2004) are: accessibility, involvement, certainty, ambivalence, affect-cognitive consistency, and temporal stability. Attitudes can be categorised in many different ways. A regular method to classify attitudes is by their affective, behavioural and cognitive (ABC) components (Petty et al. 1988). Affect refers to feelings towards the attitude object. It is a superordinate construct to encompass emotions, moods and feelings. Evaluations of objects are influenced by emotions (e.g. Cacioppo & Gardner, 1999), moods (see metaanalysis Hullet, 2005) and feelings (Schwarz, 2000). In general, positive affective states tend to correlate with enhanced persuasion and more favourable attitudes, whereas negative affective states are associated with reduced persuasion and less favourable attitudes (Bower, 1981). This is interesting since fear appeals are associated with negative emotional states (see: §4.4. Understanding Emotions). Behaviour involves intentions and outcomes with regard to an attitude object. Cognition means that there is a conscious or unconscious belief about the object. Affect is a type of emotion, behaviour involves people’s intentions and action, and cognition refers to thoughts and motivation. To recapitulate, attitudes are enduring constructs that involve dynamic evaluations of objects and refer to globally lasting evaluations of attitude objects. Most research investigates the effects of fear appeals on attitude change to measure the message’s persuasive effectiveness.

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2.3. Two Routes to Persuasion The modes in which the brain processes information can be discerned in two distinct ways. Before defining the routes to persuasion, two important factors that mediate the contingent role of these routes of processing are emphasized: motivation and ability (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). Prior to attending to an appeal, the receiver should have a minimum level of motivation, otherwise the message content will be missed. In the case of fear appeals, the threat component should grab attention and thereby motivate the individual to attend the message. Likewise, the individual that receives the message should have the ability to follow the meaning of the communication. Fear is generally easy to understand since dangerous situations provoke immediate awareness. Thus, ability describes a capacity or skill to comprehend messages, while motivation has to do with the person’s drive and focus to process messages. The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM; Petty & Cacioppo, 1986; Petty et al. 1988) posits that people dually process information. The two routes are called the central, and peripheral route of processing messages. The ELM assumes that people hold and build correct attitudes as a consequence of exposure to persuasive communication. The ELM stipulates that the impact of a variable on persuasion depends on the extent or direction of elaboration (for attitude evaluation) (Crano & Prislin, 2006). Thus, the dual-process model articulates that if the receiver of a message is able and motivated, he or she elaborates persuasive appeals. Attitudes derived from the central route are postulated to be predictive of behaviour and resistant to change. In persuasive communication, a variable can serve as argument; the variable could provide information about central merits of an object. However, if the target of the persuasive message is not motivated or unable to process, peripheral cues apply as auxiliary features – they become shortcut mechanisms to process messages. These other variables appeal to peripheral cues, allowing for attitude influence in absence of diligent considerations of the (argument) object as in the central route. The peripheral persuasion leads to attitudes changes that are relatively less persistent, resistant and predictive of behaviour (e.g. Severin & Tankard, 2001). The model explains how and when a message is routed. Therefore, the ELM engenders the basis for understanding how, when and why persuasion works. When elaboration is high, the central route to persuasion dominates, while the peripheral route is activated after low elaboration likelihood. Under conditions of high elaboration likelihood, the ELM model presumes that (in this central route) people know what they want, (goal-directed) and are motivated and able to assess the virtues of the presented arguments. When confronted with a high level fear appeal, this danger will most likely activate central processing. But if elaboration likelihood is low, people know what they do not want (e.g. Chaiken, Liberman & Eagly, 1989). People in the peripheral route are less able to evaluate the message (Chaiken, 1980). In summary, the ELM specifies that variables intervene in persuasion, depending on the extent or direction of elaboration (for attitude evaluation). The persuasive impact of fear appeals is assessed by the level of elaboration (e.g. Keller & Block, 1996). First, the message might induce a low level of fear. When the aroused fear is not perceived as a problem to the self then the receiver will not be motivated to elaborate on the recommendation. Secondly,

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when the fear appraisal is to strong, it may backfire (see §4.2. Defensive Self). When the consequences are perceived as to harmful then the receiver will not be able to elaborate on the message. The fear appeal is rejected either by denying the existence of the problem or its importance (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993). Again, elaboration is an important determinant of fear appeal effectiveness. Keller and Block (1996) suggest that fear appeals with low levels of fear would be more effective when the recipients elaborate more on the harmful consequences; therefore they are motivated to accept the message’s solution. When the message evokes a high level of fear, a decrease in elaboration on the consequences and more focus on the message’s solution would make the appeal more effective. They further posit that fear appeals with low levels of fear are more effective when the recipients elaborate more on the harmful consequences. In contrast, if the appeal evokes high levels of fear, a decrease in elaboration on the consequences and more focus on the message’s solution should be more effective. The two ELM routes of persuasion could roughly be summarized as follows: in the central route, arguments are processed extensively and objectively, while in the peripheral route, cues help to evaluate the attitude object in a simple, relatively biased manner (by means of associations and interferences). Central route persuasion is commonly lasting, while peripheral route persuasion is temporal. Thus, the way in which a message is processed will influence the outcome of the persuasive appeal and the attitudebehaviour correspondence. The dual processing model tries to understand both the extent and direction of cognitions. To better understand how fear appeals work, it is important to investigate the routes of persuasion. The persuasive outcome will depend on the route of processing.

2.4. Fear Appeals Techniques Fear appeals include a fear arousal component to a persuasive message in order to be more effective (Witte & Allen, 2000). The use of fear arousal in persuasive messages is marked by a highly visible threat component. A defining facet of threatening messages is that they alert the audience of negative outcomes in the future. Fear appeals not just scare people but, in addition, provide a second component; an action recommendation, to deal with the threatening problem. Fear appeals express a concern that negative consequences will accrue if behaviour is not altered, consistent with the advised recommendation (Leventhal, 1971; Rogers, 1975; Witte, 1992a). Therefore, two features of fear appeals can be discerned. First, by presenting information on a problem with harmful consequences, fear is induced. Secondly, the message offers a solution containing recommended actions. The order of the threat and recommendation component can be altered. Most fear appeal research focuses only on traditional message formats where multiple threats are followed by recommendations. In conclusion, people are persuaded by fear appeals when they feel the urge to relief the threat component by accepting the recommendation. There are three key ingredients of fear appeals. Witte and Allen (2000) list three key independent variables in the fear appeal processing: fear, threat, and efficacy. Fear acts as highly salient emotional appeal. Threat (cognition) is the danger to the self, measured by the summation of perceived susceptibility (or vulnerability) and perceived severity of that threat. The threat concerns the future costs of the harmful

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consequences from current behaviour, outlined by the message. However, the concepts are related: a message with a higher threat level will result in a stronger fear arousal. Bandura (1997) says that people typically attempt answering two questions when confronted with fear and threats: ‘Is there a behaviour that gives me what I want? And, can I undertake this behaviour?’ This is the third variable, perceived efficacy (see Witte, 1998), which denotes the message’s recommended response. Perceived efficacy is composed of two ingredients. First, perceived efficacy depends on selfefficacy, which is one’s belief about the ability to perform the recommendation. Thus, self-efficacy is the personal confidence one holds in one’s aptitude to perform the protective action (Bandura, 1997). The recommended coping response accompanied by fear influences the targeted individuals. Feelings of selfefficacy and vulnerability will be manipulated by actual (past) experiences, but also by vicarious experience and the persuasive communications of the fear appeal itself. Secondly, perceived efficacy is determined by response-efficacy, which holds the beliefs about whether the suggested action will work to eliminate the threat. Therefore, response-efficacy is the subjective judgment on the effectiveness of the offered solution.

2.5. Fear Appeal Models Dillard (1994) classified fear appeal theories. He distinguished three groups: i) drive theory, ii) parallel response models, and, iii) protection motivation theory. Witte (1992a) proposed a fourth model, the extended parallel process model which integrates the three former theories. After explaining these four fear appeal models, I present the stage model by Das (2001). Table 2: Fear Appeal Models

I: Drive theory focuses on the functional properties of fear, and thus on factors such as emotional arousal. Hovland, Janis and Kelly (1953) argued that when presenting threatening information, people get motivated to reply with different actions strategies to settle the evoked fear. Any response to minimize the tension will be reinforced. Therefore, a relevant solution component offered subsequent to the threatening information serves as an immediate reduction plan for the fear appeal. An assumption is that people perceive the action recommendation as effective in averting the negative consequences of the threat. Further, people must perceive themselves capable to carry out the recommendation. Interestingly, drive theory predicts that high levels of fear are less persuasive since the self adopts ‘defensive processing mechanisms’ to reject the high threat. It means that people, under certain threat levels, avert the situation not by adopting the recommended action but by rejecting the message. According to the drive models

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there is a curvilinear relationship between persuasiveness and the level of fear arousal. In sum, drive theory marks persuasion by the reinforcing decline in fear that could result from the protective recommendation, which reduces the fear. II: Parallel response models reject the proposition that emotional arousal is necessary prior to the cognitive processing for reducing the fear-induced tension. Leventhal (1971) proposed a parallel response model that postulates that persuasive appeals can be successful without evoking a drive state. Fear appeals lead to two parallel or independent processes, namely danger control and fear control. Danger control means that both the cognitive consideration of the threat and the possible effectiveness of the recommendation motivate a person’s need to prevent the danger. Fear control means that a person is motivated by the induced fear to minimize the negative emotion. Thus, a distinction between, and independence of cognition (danger control: problem solving process) and emotion (fear control: subjective sentiment process) is proposed. III: Protection motivation theory by Rogers (1975) allows for an advance specification of a person’s vulnerability to the threat, the severity of the harmful consequences, and the perceived efficacy of the recommendation (response efficacy). In addition, the theory holds that self-efficacy is a predictor of the effectiveness of fear appeals. These terms are described in the previous paragraph, but I will briefly stress their meanings once more. First, threat appraisal is the evaluation of the presented danger and is composed of perceived vulnerability (susceptibility) and perceived severity of the harmful consequences. Secondly, coping appraisal is the subjective judgment of the effectiveness of the recommended solution of the fear appeal. Again, coping appraisal is composed of perceived self-efficacy and perceived response efficacy. According to the protection motivation theory, expectations and perceived values of the harmful consequences play a significant role in the persuasiveness of the fear appeal. Logically, when these four components are embraced by recipients, people will accept the fear appeal content and are motivated to pursue the advised solution. However, threat appraisal and coping appraisal are distinguished by the protection motivation theory as separate concepts and, therefore do not account for possible interaction effects. Within the threat appraisal process, when the rewards of the unwanted behaviour are greater than the perceived susceptibility and severity then the motivation to change attitudes and behaviour will be lower. The motivation to alter behaviour will be greater with greater perceived vulnerability and higher perceived severity. Therefore, the rewards of the unwanted behaviour do not compensate the possible future costs. Within the coping appraisal process, higher self-efficacy and response-efficacy will result in greater motivation to be persuaded to alter behaviour, but the costs of following the advised solution cause a lower motivation. Generally, the theory assumes people are rational agents. It presumes that agents are able to estimate future consequences of behaviours, and act accordingly to these calculations. In sum, protection motivation theory supposes that the perceptions of severity and vulnerability to a threat affect the consideration of that threat and reduce the likelihood of maladaptive responses (Rogers, 1983). IV: The extended parallel process model by Witte (1992a, 1992b, 1998) integrated insights from drive theory, the parallel response models, and protection motivation theory. The extended parallel

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process model strives to explain how people process fear appeals and why people are persuaded. When the message is processed the threat is communicated first. People evaluate the threat considering perceived vulnerability and severity. When the threat is not perceived as serious then the message will not be processed. On the other hand, when people perceive danger, they get motivated (as with drive theory) by the threat to assess the effectiveness of the recommendation by perceived efficacy to reduce the danger. Figure 1 presents a schematic arrangement of the model’s implications. Notice the similarities with the other fear appeal models. Figure 1: Scheme of the Extended Parallel Process Model by Witte (1992)

Figure 1 shows that fear appeals are external stimuli that the recipients process. First, the threat and afterwards the recommendation are communicated (message processing, 1st & 2nd appraisals). Then, three different evaluations are feasible. First, the individual ignores the appeal because the message is irrelevant or not fearsome (low threat + low/high efficacy). This outcome depends on individual differences and is represented in figure 1 by ‘no threat perceived, no response’. Second, the individual accepts the threatening information and is motivated to control the dangerous situation by the recommended action. The person holds a ‘protection motivation’ and will control the danger (high threat, high efficacy). Third, the individual rejects the fear appeal, not because of low fear arousal but because the advised solution is not perceived as good. The person will show ‘defensive motivation’ for message rejection to control the fear (high threat, low efficacy). V: The Stage Model posited by Das (2001) accounts for a temporal distinction between primary and secondary appraisal. People exposed to fear appeals have to engage in two kinds of review. People make an assessment of the threat (vulnerability and severity) and, then consider the recommended strategy available for coping with that threat (efficacy). The appraisal of the threat determines both the processing mode and the processing goal (see De Hoog et al., 2004). The difference with other models is that the consequence of defense motivation under high threat perception is not an avoidance reaction, but rather

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results in biased deep processing. The Stage Model postulates that a negative processing bias will occur in the primary appraisal process (Das, 2001). People in this stage engage in a biased search for errors and inconsistencies in the threat components (Ditto & Lopez, 1992). The evaluation of the presented evidence is biased in the direction of the preferred conclusions (see Kruglanski, 1990). Avoidance of the message is not promising, since people are motivated to minimize the perceived threat. The content of the fear appeal constrains the minimizing effort, in particular if the appeal is processed systematically. Hence, people must accept the personal risk. Now in stage two, even biased processing of the action recommendation (secondary appraisal) occurs, but in the opposite direction. Like the drive models suggests, the recommendation contains a possible solution to the perceived threat. Therefore, the advice of the fear appeal has, as Das (2001: 37) puts it: ‘the potential to moderate the negative emotions and cognitions evoked by the primary appraisal’. To recapulate, in stage one individuals try to shape (bias) the threat in congruence with past experiences and when this strategy proves unsuccessful they enter stage two. Loewenstein and Schkade (1999) argue that individuals do not choose optimal strategies that the protection motivation theory suggests. Now the processing goal of defense motivated people is to find protective actions to effectively feel save (De Hoog et al., 2004). In this manner defense motivation causes a positive processing bias of the action recommendation. Consequently, this enhances the motivation to accept the presented solution, not considering argument quality in support of the action recommendation. Again, this defense motivation occurs under conditions of high threat which results in deep processing.

2.6. Framing Fear Appeals The sender of a fear appeal must put the message into a frame. Prospect theory posited by Tversky and Kahneman (1981) reasons that individual preferences and behavioural decision making are responsive to information framing. Consistent with prospect theory, individuals will act to avoid risky behaviours when considering the potential gains (risk averse), and individuals are willing to take risks when considering the potential losses (risk seeking). Rothman and Salovey (1997) deduced that perceived risk is the critical determinant of how individuals respond to the message frame. Fear appeals can be framed in terms of the benefits (gains) and costs (losses). Gain-frames which present benefits of adopting a particular behavior are more effective when the aim of the appeal targets prevention of behaviour. Loss-frames which emphasis the costs of failing to adopt behaviours are more effective when the targeted behaviour is screening, anticipatory behaviours such as detection of a disease (Rothman et al., 2006). Note that gain-framed appeals refer both to good things that will ensue, and to the negative consequences that will not occur. Similarly, loss-frames present either bad things that will come about, or beneficial outcomes that will not arise. In summary, if individuals are considering behaviours that involve relatively low risks, gain-framed appeals should be more persuasive. If individuals are considering actions that entail any risk of a bad outcome, loss-framed appeals should be more persuasive (Rothman et al., 2006). For example, based on Keller (2006) loss-framed messages should be prompted

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with a prevention focus if the behaviour is perceived as vigilant. Preventive behaviour serves people with the possibility to enhance their health status (Rothman & Salovey, 1997). The ELM is informative in explaining why these framing effects on persuasiveness occur. Gainframes are more effective when individuals are not involved with the message issue, since they will peripherally process the gain cue. Loss-frames are more effective when individuals are more involved with the issue, and therefore centrally process the message. Thus, message framing is another variable that determines how, when and why fear appeals can be effective persuasive weaponry. The persuasiveness is guided to the extent that the message fits with how the recipients think and reason about their environment. However, as the persuasion triangle emphasises, the way how the gains or losses are presented, either to the self, others or to the world will further influence the message impact.

2.7. Hypotheses In this section I will posit four hypotheses. These hypotheses include the issues about the effects of the level of fear, defensive mechanisms of the self, efficacy, and emotions. These topics have been briefly stressed and are now emphasised to answer four broad questions. First, the level of fear is the utmost important ingredient of the message. Dillard and Anderson (2004) posit that fear influences persuasion in four distinct ways. First, the reactivity feature of fear highlights individual variations in the inclination of fear arousal, and the subsequent effect of fear on information processing. Secondly, an increase feature emphasizes the differences between baseline and peak fear. Dillard and Anderson (2004) assume that persuasion is a function of the increase from baseline to peak fear. Thirdly, the peak intensity will vary between individuals. The peak feature suggests that the peak fear will mediate the persuasive message’s effect, regardless of the individual’s state of fear prior to the appeal. Fourthly, the decline feature holds that there are differences in de degree to which fear is reduced after the message. Dillard and Anderson (2004) assume that after fear is induced and when the effect wears out, this decrease of fear may determine persuasion. Fear is activated to the extent that the message holds important, negatively valenced, impending, and effortful recommended actions. Furthermore, fear depends on the extent that the individual perceives the recommendation as beyond control of his own behaviour. In conclusion, individual states react in response to the situation and the objectives of the self at that moment. Motivation, ability and elaboration are important determinants that interact with levels of fear. Low levels are unlikely to result in any effect, therefore given the complex way in which level of fear is build up as put forward in Dillard and Anderson (2004) analysis, the first hypothesis is as follows: H1: In general, higher levels of fear arousal result in greater fear appeal effectiveness. Drive theory and the extended parallel processing models posit that under certain circumstances people defensively process the information content of the fear appeal. Since a fear appeal threatens the individual, it should arouse a defense motivation that motivates the individual to minimize the threat. When central

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beliefs are threatened, people defend their position rather than formulating the most accurate conviction (Chaiken, Liberman & Eagly, 1989). Individuals are internally motivated to activate ‘defensive mechanisms’ when processing information that is threatening to the self (Pyszczynski & Greenberg, 1987; Giner-Sorolla, 1999). This is a great quandary for effective fear appeals. Eliminating the fear is accomplished by either denying the threat, or by relieving the fear by accepting the message recommendation. For example, Ditto and Lopez (1992) propose that biases in judgements of undesirable information result from ‘motivated scepticism’, a tendency to process information that is inconsistent with desired conclusions relatively extensively. This active scrutiny of information results in a more critical appraisal of its validity. Thus, defensive message processing can protect an individual against negative emotions such as fear, irritation, anger, and disgust. Therefore, people have many ways of discounting unwelcome messages and their perceptions of vulnerability are substantially and persistently biased (Liberman & Chaiken, 1992). Defensiveness motivates individuals to interpret information in a selfserving manner (Ditto & Lopez, 1992), which argues against the protection motivation theory. Defensive processing of self-threatening information may also protect the integrity of the self, and help to maintain a positive self-image. Eagly and Chaiken (1993) sum up five defense strategies: defensive techniques include avoidance, minimizing or discounting the severity of the threat, selective attention or denying the personal relevance of the fear appeals Despite these potentially adaptive functions of defensive responses, these strategies may have serious drawbacks when they prevent people from protecting their health (De Wit, Das & De Hoog, in press). This leads to the next hypothesis: H2a: Defensive mechanisms of the self decrease fear appeal effectiveness. The self is an important regulator of a person’s motivational and behavioural system (Sherman, Nelson & Steele, 2000). Self-affirmation theory is interesting in this case because it tries to understand why personal relevant health messages produce defensiveness. Self-affirmation posits that thoughts and actions are motivated by a person’s determination to maintain a positive self-image. The prediction of this theory is that when one’s self-image is affirmed by some means, the necessity to react defensively to the threat component of fear appeals should be reduced. This affirmation serves as a buffer to the self and helps confront the threatening information. Therefore, the following hypothesis argues that this technique facilitates fear appeal effectiveness. H2b: Self-affirmation reduces the self defensive mechanisms by providing a buffer. As follows, self-affirmation increases fear appeal effectiveness. To overcome message threat refutation, good action recommendations could persuade the message receiver to relief the fear by accepting the solution. Keller (2006) stresses the significant link between regulatory focus and self-efficacy versus response-efficacy in fear appeals (see Bandura, 1997). When

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promotion focused, people are influenced by eagerness to attain positive goals for the self (Higgins, 1987). In contrast, more prevention focused people centre on preserving absence of unwanted consequences they vigilantly protect the self by maintaining the status quo. Keller says that ‘regulatory focus can be primed by the situation or message or measured as individual difference’. Differences in regulatory focus mean that ‘people will be concerned with different efficacy appraisals’. Thus, various usefulness assessments by recipients will strongly affect the persuasiveness of the fear appeal. H3: Different efficacy appraisals determine fear appeal effectiveness. Because fear appeals entail an emotional appeal, it is important to understand the function of emotions in persuasive fear communications. Emotions normally have a well-known cause and are specific, focused and notably present in consciousness (Dillard & Peck, 2000). Emotions operate as information processing systems, designed to deal with certain person-environment relationships (see table 2). Each emotion has an associated motivation known as an action tendency, which can be characterized in terms of engagement and withdrawal (Davidson, 1993). When emotions are used as shortcuts in the decision making process, individual emotions offer guidance that can influence the message acceptance (Dillard & Nabi, 2006; Schwarz & Clore, 1996). The same emotional state might, under different circumstances, enhance or inhibit persuasive success. Table 2: Affects and Associated Signal Values and Functions (Dillard & Peck, 2000)

Cacioppo and Gardner (1999) developed a dual-motivation theory. It assumes that emotions can be categorised in two groups: arousal and valence. The valence continuum ranges from positive to negative. The arousal continuum ranges from aroused to calm. For example, feeling good signals that the situation is safe, whereas feeling bad informs the individual that something is wrong and that problemseeking is required. Fundamentally, the dual-system theory posits that people have evolved two independent motivational systems: appetitive and aversive (Thayer, 1989). As the names suggest, appetitive is associated with good things, and the aversive system evolved from negative response from potentially harmful situations. Affective states will have diverse effects on the outcome of the persuasive communication process (Petty et al. 1988), since affect can serve either as a peripheral cue, or it may

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interfere with the extent or direction of argument processing. When people are actively scrutinizing a message, affect can serve as a retrieval cue for memory, influencing what comes to mind. Schwarz (2000) emphasises the complex interplay between emotion, cognition and decision making. He says ‘people use their affective response to an object as a basis for consideration by asking: ‘how do I feel about this?’. However, these models do not address the direct influence of emotions on attitudes. ‘Although emotions may surely impact persuasive outcome via cognitive routes, they also appear to have a direct path to persuasion, making them all the more attractive to consider in trying to promote prevention and detection health behaviours’ (Dillard & Nabi, 2006: 137). However, Sinclair, Mark and Clore (1994) found that when participants considered the cause of their moods, the relationship between mood valence and message processing (here, heuristic) disappeared. Raghunatan and Trope (2002) demonstrated that positive moods could serve as a resource when the receiver is reacting on self-relevant appeals. According to the mood-as-a-resource hypothesis, positive moods enable a buffer to potential threatening selfrelevant, but useful information. In situations of low self-relevance negative moods serve as information and lead to more elaborative processing. Under conditions of high self-relevance, positive moods act as a shield and facilitate systematic processing of negative information; what will likely result in attitude change. Whether an emotion enhances or inhibits persuasion depends on its relationship with the target of evaluation (Dillard & Nabi, 2006). In conclusion, affective states are important to take into account. However, each fear appeal can evoke other emotions than fear and these effects should be tested individually. Therefore, the last hypothesis argues the following: H4: Emotions and affective states will have unspecified effects on fear appeal effectiveness.

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III. METHOD “Fear is an emotion indispensable for survival.” (Hannah Arendt, 1958) This literature review will present an overview of studies on the persuasive effectiveness of fear appeals in many different situations. After reading a meta-analysis on fear appeals by Witte and Allen (2000) a search was preformed by using Picarta. Search items included the titles of referenced literature in that study, but this also resulted in other interesting articles. After this process, a broad search on the term ‘fear appeal’ was performed, again using Picarta. This gave an enormous amount of literature; therefore a selection was made by checking the first 150 articles. Not all articles were available from the Vrije Universiteit database. Most accessible databases included Blackwell-Synergy, J-Stor, SAGE Publications, and Science Direct. Because this broad search resulted in too many hits, the publication period was set to be listed ‘from 2000 to 2006’. In addition, searches in particular, highly ranked journals were performed under search terms ‘danger’, ‘efficacy’, ‘fear’, ‘fear appeals’, ‘fear communication’, ‘fear and persuasion’, and ‘threat’. These journals were Cognition and Emotion, Health Communication, Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Communication, Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Finally, most useful and recent articles were selected.

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IV. EMPIRICAL FINDINGS “Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth-- more than ruin, more even than death.” (Bertrand Russell, 1930) "A man who has been in danger, when he comes out of it forgets his fears, and sometimes he forgets his promises." (Euripides - 414 BC) This part will discuss different variables that mediate the effectiveness of fear appeals. In the previous part, it has already been theorised how, when and why fear appeals work. From here specifically, I review the effects of levels of fear and elaboration, defensive mechanisms, efficacy, and the significance of emotions in understanding fear appeals.

4.1. Levels of Fear Arousal The first hypothesis was that in general, higher levels of fear arousal result in greater fear appeal effectiveness (see table 3 for main conclusions). In a meta-analysis of 45 articles Mongeau (2000) reported an effect of threat level on fear with an average effect of r = 0.35. He concludes that ‘fear appeals should highlight the threat and the recommended means of avoiding the threat’ (Mongeau, 2000: 66). Another meta-analysis by Witte and Allen (2000) from more than 100 studies on fear appeals shows that higher levels of fear indeed are more persuasive. Like Mongeau (2000), the two most important factors Witte and Allen (2000) found were induced level of fear and efficacy. A 2x2 analysis of variance indicated a significant main effect for threat (F = 32.75, p < 0.05) and efficacy (F = 16.17, p < 0.05) on persuasiveness, and a nonsignificant interaction effect. They further examined the danger control and fear control processes. First, highly threatening messages from danger control processes were more persuasive than not so threatening appeals (t = 6.83, p < 0.05). High threat combined with high efficacy is most effective, followed by high threat and low efficacy. The findings indicate that the stronger the fear appeal and the weaker the efficacy advice, the greater the fear control reactions were. Keller and Block (1996) tested the implications of level of fear in combination with the message elaboration. A 2x2x2 between subjects design was employed with independent variables level of fear, reference (self versus other) and, way of processing (imagery versus objective elaboration). They set up an anti-smoking campaign where all appeals had the same action recommendation saying that they advocated a trail of a type of nicotine patches. Thoughts on the problem and solution of the message were recorded. Results of Keller and Block (1996) indicate a three-way interaction between fear, point of reference and type of processing on the persuasion measure (F = 5.10, p < 0.05), problem thoughts (F = 10.67, p < 0.01) and solution thoughts (F = 3.95, p < 0.05). Further, the interaction between reference and fear was significant on persuasion (F = 10.26, p < 0.01), problem thoughts (F = 10.94, p < 0.01) and solution thoughts (F = 20.40, p < 0.01). Under the condition of other-reference to reduce problem elaboration,

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high degree of fear was more persuasive than the low fear condition (F = 6.10, p < 0.05). Also, in the high fear condition, participants had more problem thoughts (F = 6.81, p < 0.05) and solution thoughts (F = 7.13, p < 0.05) than in the low fear condition. Overall, high fear arousal was more persuasive than low fear arousal (F = 9.73, p < 0.05). Regression analysis indicated two significant full mediators of the relationship between fear and persuasiveness: problem elaboration (r = 0.16, p < 0.05) and total message elaboration (r = 0.16, p < 0.05). There was a significant effect of problem elaboration on solution elaboration (β = 0.21, p < 0.05), solution elaboration on persuasiveness (β = 0.23, p < 0.05) and, problem elaboration on persuasion (β = 0.27, p < 0.01). The effect of total elaboration on persuasion was significant (β = 0.30, p < 0.01). The results of Keller and Block (1996) implicate that elaboration of the problem determines solution elaboration, which in turn establishes persuasion. Therefore, these findings indicate that a reduction in problem elaboration reduces the persuasiveness in low fear appraisal, whereas a decrease in problem elaboration increases persuasion for high fear appraisal. Furthermore, under high fear levels, messages are more effective when the harmful consequences are reference to others and when the appeal is made to objectively process the content. Again, results seem to support the first hypothesis that higher levels of fear are more persuasive than low fear arousal messages. Das, De Wit and Stroebe (2003) established that when the receiver of a fear appeal message feels vulnerable to a threat, the person generates favourable cognitive responses and subsequently changes attitudes. The study employed vulnerability, severity and quality of the recommendation as independent variables. What this study shows is that the most important determinant of perceived threat is vulnerability (see also De Hoog, Stroebe & De Wit, 2005). The dependent variables, emotion, attitude, intentions and behaviour were strongly mediated by the level of vulnerability. For persuasiveness, a significant main effect of perceived vulnerability was observed (F = 16.49; p < 0.001). Furthermore, high susceptibility to a threat resulted in positively bias information processing. The recommendation was embraced without real thinking. It shows that after a fear appeal, vulnerability operates as a motivator to the receiver. Thus, the level of fear is an important mediator for persuasiveness. Dillard and Anderson (2004) tested the effects of level of fear. In a 2x2 between subjects design with level of fear and measurement moment of fear arousal as independent variables, 361 students read a fear appeal in a problem-solution format that warned about the dangers of influenza and recommended vaccination. Results of Dillard and Anderson (2004) show a significant effect for level of threat (F = 15.23; p < 0.001), but no effect for measurement (F = 0.25; p = 0.90), and no interaction (F = 0.25; p = 0.90). Further, the findings indicate that significant role of pre-message fear, fear increase and fear peak for the inhibition systems. In contrast to the drive theory models, fear reduction had no significant impact on persuasion. What they conclude is that both fear increase and peak are positively correlated with persuasion. Central and peripheral routes of processing the information are mainly a function of the level of fear (fear reactivity, increase of apprehension, peak and decline of fear). Fear is chiefly triggered by the message’s importance, perceived harmfulness, imminence, and chance and costs of not pursuing the

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effortful recommended actions. Overall, empirical results indicate that higher levels of fear arousal are more effective (eg. Boster & Mongeau, 1984; Sutton, 1982) and the first hypothesis is accepted.

Table 3: Empirical Studies on ‘Level of Fear Arousal’ (Hypothesis 1)

4.2. The Defensive Self The second hypothesis concerns defensive mechanisms of the self. According to the hypothesis, defense works in a self-serving manner and therefore decrease fear appeal effectiveness (see table 4 for an overview). Recall the research by Keller and Block (1996) on fear appeals. In the condition of selfreference to reduce problem elaboration, low levels of fear were marginally more persuasive than the high fear condition (F = 2.19, p < 0.07). In addition, in the low fear condition, participants had more problem thoughts (F = 6.30, p < 0.05) and solution thoughts (F = 16.16, p < 0.05) than in the high fear condition. Participants elaborated more on the solution in the other-reference frame under conditions of high fear than in low fear (F = 23.52, p < 0.05). Problem elaboration increases elaboration of the solution and also of persuasiveness for low fear appraisal but, problem elaboration reduces it under high fear appraisal. Low fear level appeals can be effective when the threat is framed towards the self and when the recipient is framed to imaginary process the message’s content. Thus, there is a tendency that participants showed defensive reactions towards high levels of fear arousal, which resulted in lower message elaboration and persuasion. In a classical study on defensive processing, Liberman and Chaiken (1992) established that individuals show a defensive reaction when they receive a highly relevant threatening message. The study was a 2x2 factorial design on coffee intake with as independent variables threat and relevance (coffee

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drinker vs. no-coffee drinker). After viewing a fear appeal, the high threat group induced greater motivation to reduce caffeine intake. However, high relevance subjects agreed less with the high threat message than low relevance subjects, but agreed more with the low threat message. High relevance subjects reported expending more effort reading the article than low relevance subjects. Thus, the defensive reaction resulted from biased systematic processing (see Das, De Wit & Stroebe, 2003) rather than defensive inattention. Liberman and Chaiken (1992) suggest that under high relevance and high levels of fear heuristic cues such as source likeability, expertise or consensus information could increase overall persuasiveness. Nevertheless, the conclusion remains that high personal relevance can result in defensively biased systematic processing. Hoeken and Geurts (2005) performed a study with 149 students who were presented a case example about the dangers of internet addiction. In one version, a student succeeded in cutting down internet use, and did not suffer the negative (physical, social, and professional) consequences of internet addiction. In the other version, a student did not succeed in reducing internet use, and experienced negative consequences of the internet behaviour. Empirical results showed that after reading the version in which the student succeeded in halting the addiction, participants held a more positive view on their own ability to cut down internet use and were more inclined to use the internet sparingly (Z = 6.53; p < 0.001). After reading the version in which the student failed and kept addicted, participants held a more negative view of their own ability to stop using the internet excessively (Z = 4.41; p < 0.01). The second part of the hypothesis about defense mechanisms argued that self-affirmation could increase fear appeal effectiveness. When the self is threatened given the persuasion triangle defensive mechanisms occur. Sherman, Nelson and Steele (2000) tested whether self-affirmation techniques can increase fear appeal effectiveness. The first study (see Liberman & Chaiken, 1992) investigated whether affirmed coffee-drinkers accepted the content of a high-threatening message more than nonaffirmed drinkers. The research followed a 2x2 between-subjects factorial design with relevance (coffee-drinker versus non-coffee-drinker) and affirmation as independent variables. First, affirmed participant felt better about themselves than non-affirmed individuals (F = 4.64, p < 0.05). A two-way ANOVA revealed a main effect where affirmed participants accepted the health message more than non-affirmed participants (F = 8.04, p < 0.01). Further, there was a significant interaction between affirmation and relevance (F = 16.44, p < 0.001). In the nonaffirmed condition, coffee-drinkers were less accepting the message than non-coffeedrinkers (F = 5.85, p < 0.05). In the high relevance group, affirmation lead to a greater intentions to reduce caffeine consumption than no affirmation (F = 25.89, p < 0.001). Affirmed coffee-drinkers accepted the message more than affirmed non-coffee-drinkers. Thus, for the relevant group affirmation had beneficial effects and made the appeal more effective. Therefore, affirmation reduces defensive processing of threatening messages and is more persuasive in reducing future caffeine consumption. Study two examined whether self-affirmed students who saw an AIDS education video perceived themselves at greater risk than nonaffirmed students. Again, self-affirmed participants viewed themselves as being at greater risk for HIV than nonaffirmed participants (F = 6.62, p < 0.05). In addition, in the

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affirmation condition, 50% purchased condoms, whereas 25% in the no-affirmation condition purchased condoms (χ² = 4.03, p < 0.05). Similarly, 78% of the affirmed participants took brochures and only 54% of the nonaffirmed participants took brochures (χ² = 4.09, p < 0.05). Affirmation increases perceptions of personal risks after a threatening message. In contrast to Liberman and Chaiken (1992), the high-relevant groups were more persuaded by the threatening message. The salient of self-affirming thoughts increased the ease of processing threatening information in a non-defensive manner. In study one, the affirmation was administrated after the threat component, whereas in study two the affirmation was made before the fear appeal. This establishes the robustness of the self-affirmation technique. In conclusion, for a highly relevant audience self-affirmation can increase fear appeal effectiveness. Defense mechanisms expose a challenge for the use of fear appeals. However, the hypothesis is accepted. This shows that defensive strategies can be overcome utilizing definite techniques such as self-affirmation. Table 4: Empirical Studies on ‘The Defensive Self’ (Hypothesis 2a & 2b)

4.3. Efficacy Effects Fear appeals constitute of a threat component and an efficacy component. The hypothesis is that various efficacy evaluations establish fear appeal effectiveness (see table 5). Efficacy can be divided into selfefficacy and response efficacy categories. Based on statistical analyses, Kline and Mattson (2000) suggest that fear appeal messages contain an unbalanced proportion of threat to efficacy arguments. Moreover, the efficacy messages were substantively weak. Kline and Mattson (2000) conclude this content analysis on breast self-examination pamphlets that the message content variables of severity, vulnerability, responseand self-efficacy are critical ingredients to the construction of effective health promotion messages. For example, Keller (2006) conducted a research on efficacy. In his first experiment on diet benefits, the effects of response efficacy were higher than for self-efficacy appeal (t = 14.54, p < 0.001). In the second experiment on sunscreen usage, a mixed between-subjects design with regulatory focus and

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efficacy appeals was used with two dependent measures of response- and self-efficacy appraisals as withinsubject variables. The ANOVA main effect of regulatory focus appeared marginal (F = 3.36, p = 0.07). Participants in the promotion condition showed greater intentions to use sunscreen than in the prevention condition when they received a self-efficacy appeal instead of a response efficacy appeal. Participants in the prevention focus condition had higher intentions to use sunscreen when they were exposed to response efficacy appeal instead of self-efficacy appeal. Thus, the interaction was significant (F = 27.64, p < 0.001). Further, regression analysis results showed that intentions in the prevention condition predicted response efficacy better than self-efficacy appeals (β = -0.11, t = 2.16, p < 0.05). Intentions in the promotion condition were better predicted by self-efficacy than by response efficacy appeals (β = 0.07, t = 2.71, p < 0.05). The results propagate matching the message frames with the efficacy. In two experiments, Keller’s findings (2006) suggest that people feel more eager to self-efficacy appeals. In opposition, people feel more vigilant to response-efficacy appeals (Lee & Aaker, 2004). Eagerness is dominant in promotion focus and vigilance is dominant in prevention focus. The promotion focus is oriented towards the ease of recommendation instead of the effectiveness of that action. The prevention focus is oriented toward effectiveness of the recommendation rather than on the difficulty of following the propagated action. Since efficacy is about the acceptance of the recommendation, it is important to better understand the long term effects of adaptive efficacy responses. Albarracín, Cohen and Kumkale (2003) investigated the more enduring effect of post-message behaviour and the influence of resistance process to the message. In a 2x2 between subject design 99 male students read a consumer-education message. The independent variables were message and trail. Half of the messages advised alcohol abstinence and the other half only moderation, whereas in one group tried a simulated alcohol product and the other group only attended the message without any trail. Results show that participants who previously tried the product and received an abstinence appeal had a greater number of drinks afterwards than recipients of moderation (M = 3.35 vs. M = 2.42; F = 5.48, p < 0.01). Furthermore, those exposed to the abstinence condition had stronger intentions to use the alcohol product than the moderation condition (F = 12.89; p < 0.001). Thus, moderation promoted greater resistance than abstinence. In line with cognitive dissonance theory, people who perform behaviours in ways that conflict with previously received messages are more likely to counteract on that message to a greater extent than those recipients that do not experience such post-message conflict (Albarracín et al., 2003). De Hoog and colleagues (2005) studied the processing and acceptance of the action recommendation on the promotion of RSI stress management training. The design was a 2x2x2 betweensubjects factorial design where the independent variables vulnerability, argument quality, and source expertise were manipulated. The empirical findings of this study showed that there was a main effect of argument quality on attitudes (F = 9.14, p < 0.01) which simply means that strong arguments were more persuasive than weak arguments. However, both source expertise and vulnerability had no main effect on attitude. There were no interaction effects. There was a main effect of vulnerability on intentions (F = 14.53, p < 0.001). Participants had a greater intention to follow the action recommendation when they

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where under conditions of high vulnerability. An analysis of the effect of vulnerability on two behavioural items showed by a logistic regression analysis a main effect (Wald(1) = 8.28, p < 0.01 and Wald(1) = 12.98, p < 0.001). What this means is that vulnerable participants requested more information about RSI reduction and that they signed up more often for the RSI training than participants under low vulnerability. Cognitive response was measured by positive and negative thoughts about the recommendation. Vulnerable participants had more positive thoughts about the action recommendation (F = 4.47, p < 0.05) and they had less negative thoughts (F = 6.81, p < 0.01) than nonvulnerable participants. Results support the stage model. In summary, hypothesis three is accepted and it logically follows that different efficacy appraisals determine fear appeal effectiveness, although it seems that selfefficacy is the most important determinant. Table 5: Empirical Studies on ‘Efficacy Effects’ (Hypothesis 3)

4.4. Understanding Emotions The final hypothesis argues that fear appeal effectiveness is influenced in unspecified manners by evoked emotions other than fear and affective states that the targeted individual holds (summary of results, see table 6). Dillard and Peck (2000) conducted a research concerning the role of emotions in the persuasion process. They let 140 students view eight different public service announcements which evoke different emotions, and reported their cognitive, emotional and attitudinal responses. Three conditions of attending were distinguished (elaboration: feelings, objective or no instruction). Each emotions, surprise, fear, anger, sadness, guilt, happiness, and contentment manifested a significant impact on judgments of persuasiveness, regardless of the way of message processing. In addition, a positive association between perceived message effectiveness and attitudes was significant (all regression coefficients for the eight types of emotions ranged from 0.10 to 0.48). Effects of cognition and emotion on attitude were mediated by judgements of persuasiveness. A follow-up study of 55 students let the participants view two advertisements. Interestingly, data showed a stronger correlation for liking in positively toned messages than in negatively toned ones (r = 0.28; p < 0.05; Z = 3.64; p < 0.05). As turns out, liking is a good predictor of attitudes for positively framed messages (r = 0.46; p < 0.05), but a poor predictor of M.A. BOERMANS (2007) – BACHELOR THESIS COMMUNICATION SCIENCE


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negatively toned ones (r = 0.15; p = 0.40). Attitude is a better predictor of effectiveness than the liking of the message. Thus, Dillard and Peck (2000) show that emotions have a significant role in the judgements of perceived message effectiveness, which shapes attitudes towards the message issues. In seven advertisements, fear manifested significant positive associations with message effectiveness. Putting fear appeals into practice should be done with great care. Potter et al. (2006) investigated the impact of mood inducement stemming from the television programming content prior to presenting fear appeals. 79 students viewed emotional programming that was slightly positive, neutral or slightly negative. Participants preformed a word categorization task after watching the emotional content. In the positive programming condition, participants recognised positive words faster than the in the negative condition (F = 4.13; p < 0.05). Similarly, those in the sad programming group were significantly faster in identifying negative words than those in the appetitive group (F = 3.79; p < 0.05). In the second study, 103 students viewed a fear appeal advertisement about safe driving behaviour after either comedic or sad television programming. The negatively toned advertisement (fear appeal) resulted in greater level of tension arousal in the congruent sad programming context than in the positive program context (F = 15.4; p < 0.05). Importantly, the findings indicate that the attitude towards the fear appeal advertisement were more negative for the participants who viewed a sad program compared with those who saw comedic content (F = 4.4; p < 0.05). Thus, attitudes were significantly less positive in the negative condition those that had watched the positive program. However, the behavioural intentions to be more alert while driving were significantly greater for the negative condition than for the positive condition (F = 3.94; p < 0.05). The authors conclude that social marketing campaigns should ‘place fear appeals (…) in programming where even slightly negative content may be expected’ (Potter et al., 2006: 75). Boyd (2005) tested the traditional fear appeal message against a balanced format where repeating sequences of single threats are followed by single action recommendations. In accordance with dual process models, participants were classified as either sensitizers (those who cope by extensive thought) or repressors (those who cope by avoidance or denial). The newly created balanced format proofed more effective for the sensitizers. Under centrally processing, this group produced more supportive arguments but fewer counterarguments. Further, in the balanced format, systematic processing caused greater behavioural intentions to follow the action recommendation. Positive and negative moods characterized by uncertainty foster systematic processing (Tiedens & Linton, 2001; Lerner & Keltner, 2000). Thus, the same mood has different effects on the way the message is processed; elaborating the appeal when uncertain, but attenuating only under certainty. Johnson and Tversky (1983) showed that the induction of negative affect increased the estimated frequency of negative events, but that positive affect decreased the estimate for negative events. This suggests that persuasive arguments stressing positive consequences of following a recommendation should be more persuasive for people in a good mood. People experiencing a bad mood are more persuaded by arguments appealing to the negative outcome of failing to carry out the recommendation. Affective states bias expectancies in a mood-congruent manner for positive events as well (Mayer, et al. 1992). DeSteno

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and colleagues (2002) argue that people bias estimates of the likelihood of events. Using emotional states as information, individuals overestimate emotion-congruent, but underestimate emotion-incongruent events. Therefore, the effectiveness of persuasive communication depends on the match between emotions and the emotional frame of the appeal (DeSteno, 2004). Specific states form a reaction in congruence with the match between emotion and the specific message appeal of the persuasive communication. Lerner and Keltner (2000) extend the feeling-as-information approach to specific emotions. They hold that judgements and processing modes are probable to reflect the appraisal inclination underlying the current emotion. They show that fearful individuals make pessimistic judgements about future events, whereas angry persons are more optimistic. “Smoking pot may not kill you but it will kill your mother” This is a fear appeal with inducement of fear combined with the feeling of guilt. The studies by Passyn and Sujan (2006) examined the role of these types of high self-accountability emotions on enhancing fear appeal techniques. Fear appeals combined with either guilt, or regret (self-blame for harming one’s self), or challenge seem effective receiving greater compliance. In their first experiment on skin cancer and sunscreen usage, six conditions were created with pamphlets that manipulated fear, elevated fear, regret, guilt, challenge, and hope. This resulted in a 2x2 between subjects design with independent variables self-accountability and a positive versus negative appeal. Empirical evidence demonstrates that high self-accountability increased intentions to use sunscreen (F = 38.7; p < 0.001). Interestingly, for high self-accountability emotions, giving procedural coping strategies rather than presenting an abstract recommendation resulted in greater coping for high self-accountability than for the low (F = 14.92; p < 0.001). However, no difference was found for abstract coping in the high versus low self-accountability condition. Thus, the authors conclude that ‘feeling good or bad is irrelevant for action, as long as one feels responsible to act’ (Passyn & Sjan, 2006: 586). A second study showed that there were greater intentions to use sunscreen in the high accountability conditions (F = 9.16; p < 0.01), even when the participants were asked about the usage 3, 10, and 18 days after the distribution of the pamphlet (r > 0.65; p < 0.01)., although the effect diminished over time. What these experiments demonstrate is that adding high self-accountability emotions such as guilt, challenge and regret to a fear appeal can increase the effectiveness of the persuasive communication. It supports functional theories of emotions, both positive and negative emotions play an important role in the persuasive communication process and they can bring about the responsibility in an individual to act. Thus, protection motivation theory must distinguish self-efficacy from the appraisal of self-accountability. Similarly, Abele, Silvia and Zoller-Utz (2005) posit that the effect of moods is not fixed. In a 2x2 between subject design with independent variables mood and situational demand, they showed that moods have flexible effects on self-focused attention, depending on the context (F = 8.80; p < 0.01). When subjects in the positive mood condition experienced the situation as pressing and demanding (and not as relaxing and effortless), they would be less self-focused. For subjects in low situational demand circumstances, positive moods increased self-focus. Positive moods boost self-focus when the situation is not demanding. In line with evolutionary psychology, Abele, Silvia and Zoller-Utz (2005) predict that

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situational settings determine whether positive moods intensify or attenuate self-focused attention. Thus, matching each unique emotion with the sender’s intended outcome increases the effect of the emotional arousal. After selecting a strategic emotion such as fear, appraisal consequences direct the message on emotional evocation. These lines of research truly indicate the many aspects of different emotions. Affective states and moods, as other emotions than fear arousal, significantly influence the outcome of a fear appeal. Conversely, hypothesis four is accepted by most literature. This should not discourage senders of fear induced messages, but it should rather make them cautions. Fear appeal effectiveness is influenced in unspecified manners by evoked emotions other than fear and affective states that the targeted individual holds, therefore each appeal should be tested for unforeseen effects. Table 6: Empirical Studies on ‘Understanding Emotions’ (Hypothesis 4)

4.5. Conclusions Concerning the Hypotheses All four hypotheses are mainly accepted. However, some remarks are necessary to better appreciate the complex relationships between the level of fear, defensive mechanisms of the self, efficacy, and emotions. First, it is not always obligated to horrify individuals in order to persuade (Treise et al., 1994). Further, explicit moral questions ask whether high levels of fear are essential to accomplish message and recommendation acceptance (LaTour & Zahra, 1989). Therefore, the conclusion is wrong that higher fear appeal effectiveness is reached by greater levels of fear. Thus, hypothesis one must be put into social and moral boundaries. The next hypothesis specifies that defensive mechanisms impede fear appeal effectiveness. This concern can be overcome by other techniques such as self-affirmation. As stressed, high levels of fear are the main determinant of message resistance. Therefore, defensive mechanisms put further boundaries on the benefits of greater evoked fears. The stage model specifies that the first appraisal process of the threat component could bias the processing of the recommendation. The

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third hypothesis tries to persuade researchers and senderâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s of fear appeals to put more weight on the efficacy component instead of the threat component. Here lines seem to diverge. Research into fear appeals mainly focuses on the fear arousal and measures the message persuasiveness in terms of attitudes, intentions and behaviours. In practice, organisations employing fear appeal campaign central concerns are the recommendation. They should be more aware of the importance of the fear and when they evaluate the promotion success, they should not focus only on behaviour (e.g. sales). Both fear appeal ingredients, fear problem and recommended solution, are equally important in order to have a persuasive message. When put into a state of fear, people may be motivated to securitize the solution more systematically, peripherally, defensively or even in a biased manner. Finally, the last hypothesis is only partly accepted. Emotions and affective states other than fear influence the persuasive outcome of fear appeals. However, many researches indicate what effects can be anticipated in case of spurious emotions like happiness, sadness or states like self-focused attention, responsive and regulatory focused emotion. Practioners should take advantage of the study outcomes.

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V. DISCUSSION “The cause of the origin of a thing and its eventual utility, its actual employment and place in a system of purposes, lie worlds apart; whatever exists, having somehow come into being, is again and again reinterpreted to new ends.” (Nietzsche, 1882) This manuscript asked how persuasive fear communications work. Fear appeals are a persuasive technique with three ingredients: fear, threat and efficacy. Classical fear appeal messages induce fear by presenting a threat, and afterwards provide an advice. The self-efficacy is a subjective judgment about the perceived ability to complete the recommended solution. Response-efficacy is the perceived effectiveness of the instruction. The goal of fear appeals is to let people alter their attitudes and behaviours by incorporating the recommended action. The motivation, ability and way of elaboration determine the persuasion outcome. It is important to construct an effective recommendation that relieves the induced level of fear. The first social scientific research on fear appeals appeared in 1953, with a publication by Janis and Feshbach. In this manuscript they noticed problems for investigating fear appeal effects. They said that defensive inattention to fear arousing messages was unlikely to occur in lab-settings, but they were wrong. Many studies have shown that the most relevant audience (those at risk) under certain conditions prevents a breakdown in self-integrity by rejecting the fear arousal message. The self is equipped with shielding mechanisms that defend the uneasiness of negative information (Koole, 2004). These defense mechanisms that operate the outcome were already a concern after the first scientific study of fear appeals appeared. However, little was known about how, when and why these effects occurred. Presently, two types of defensiveness or message denial are known: minimization of consequences of the threat component, and biased scepticism regarding the efficacy of the recommendation. Recent findings suggest that this effect should not be exaggerated: in general, higher levels of fear arousal result in greater attitude and behavioural change. As in signalling theory, the threat must be credible in order to be effective. Further, health promotion programs must emphasis that the individual can avoid greater harm by adoption the precautions of the recommended action (De Wit, Das & De Hoog, in press). The awareness of a person’s vulnerability to a potentially serious harm will ultimately motivate the person to cope with the fear by taking action (and mostly not defensive action). This is exactly what the protection motivation theory posits. However, as the stage model predicts, the appraisal of the threat determines both the processing mode and the processing goal. Thus, the evoked emotional state should be matched with the recommendation in order to persuade an individual to take action instead of shielding the message. As turned out, defensive processing could be a great obstacle to the effectiveness of fear appeals. Inducing too much fear may backfire because people tend to seek congruency with past experiences. This raises the question how to overcome this effect, because most studies paradoxally report that greater fear brings

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larger attitude change. A limitation is that fear levels are treated dichotomous instead of continuous. This compose problems for a distinction between high and too high level of fear in a universal manner. Theories on information processing indicate that people better recall information that is congruent with prior beliefs (Bower, 1981). Further, when information is congruent with current emotions, recall is more likely (Schwarz, 2000). Congruent information is evaluated less critically and judged more valid compared to incongruent information (Ditto & Lopez, 1992; Pyszczynski & Greenberg, 1987). Congruent information will be processed with a positive bias; incongruent information will be processed with a negative bias (Das, 2001). A problem for the use of fear appeals is that many of the target groups have already experienced the induced fear derived from long-term knowledge. Pee and Hammond (1997) argue the in these situations, fear appeals have long-term detrimental effects based on escape-avoidance behaviour. Exposure to fear appeals would remind individuals not to risk attending the potential harmful information. For instance, when the reward of the behaviour itself is greater than the perceived consequences, (vulnerability and severity of the danger) people will not stop the maladaptive behaviour. Thus, people engage in a fear control process instead of controlling the threatening consequences of their behaviour by following the recommended actions. Generally, prior knowledge offers resistance to emotional arousal. As a solution, it could be argued to induce a high level of fear. In this manner, the fear appeal notifies the recipients that the message is relevant and this should motivate the person (Meyrick, 2001). Again, too strongly induced fear could lead to defensive processing. For instance, telling a smoker that the behaviour cause long cancer is simply not surprising. Novel stimuli like fear might prove to be more effective than familiar ones. A related problem with escape-avoidance behaviour is the unexpectedness of the appeal. Schwarz (2000) highlights that all decisions involve anticipation of future feelings. However, great uncertainty about possible future costs and emotions makes it difficult to derive the expected utility of different alternative action plans. Individuals that adopt suboptimal strategies (Loewenstein & Schkade, 1999) act in opposition to the protection motivation theory. Further research should verify the effects of emotions on decision making and investigate to what degree people will adopt suboptimal actions. Thus, how people construe a behavior is likely a function of a number of factors. Yet, the primary determinant of how people construe a behavior is likely to be their personal experience (Fazio & Zanna, 1981). Under conditions of high involvement, Berger and Mitchel (1989) have shown that repeated advertising exposure makes attitudes more accessible from memory, held with more confidence, and that these formed attitudes better predict behaviour than attitudes formed under a single advertisement exposure. Repetition positively influences awareness. As evaluations (attitudes) become more positive, attitude accessibility and confidence increase (see Powell and Fazio, 1984). Thus, attitude formation and change from persuasion depend on different attitude functions, components and dimensions, such as attitude strength, importance, accessibility and confidence. In the case of fear appeals, it is important to better understand the effects of attending a fear arousal repeatedly. It is not documented what the effects of mere exposure to fear appeals are, but interference from previous research, it is currently understood

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that seeing a fear appeal more often would lead to higher memory activation and stronger attitude formation. However, the induced level of fear may wear out when the message is repeated. The interaction effects should be dealt with in further research. A further difficulty for the use of fear appeals is that the targeted emotional arousal cannot be met without inducing other emotions as well. Fear appeals possibly evoke other negative emotions such as uncertainty, anger, irritation or depression (Das, 2001). The sender of a fear appeal should therefore not only consider the intended aroused emotion, but aim to control the unintentional emotions when creating the fear appeal. The spurious emotions may work against the persuasive communication process. Thus, assuring appropriate emotional arousal requires guarding against the evocation of unintentional, or collateral emotions (Dillard & Nabi, 2006). The audience perceptions to a fear message should be carefully pre-tested in order to prevent defense mechanisms. Furthermore, the effects of fear appeals on persuasion can be unrelated to the threat component, therefore cognitive mechanisms may account for these effects. A simple solution to prevent spurious effects of unintended aroused emotions by a fear appeal is to combine the message with other strong emotional appeals. For example, guilt appeals alone are a new area of research which builds on former theories of fear appeals. An assumption is that affective states and cognition are manifestations of two underlying evolved physiological systems (Thayer, 1989). The behavioral-inhibition system (BIS) and behavioral-activation system (BAS) have the purpose to guide behaviour (Thayer, 1989). BIS inhibits actions that may lead to aversive outcomes and is sensitive to cues such as punishment, nonreward, and novelty. Activation of BIS will create negative affective states. On the other hand, BAS has the purpose to produce positive affective states. BAS relies on cues of reward and avoidance of punishment. People with strong and active inhibition systems are generally more fearful than people with weaker and less active inhibition systems. Thus, BIS is associated with negative affect, while BAS activates positive affect. Both rely on the reactivity of the motivational system. The negative affect, mood, emotions and feelings arise from the message appeal that the environment is incongruent with the goals of the self. In contrast, positive aspects of the self follow from the appraisal of compatibility between goals and environment. The hypotheses from BIS are that premessage fear is positively related to BIS, that BIS is positively related to fear increase and peak, and that implication is that BIS negatively correlated with the decrease of fear after the fear appeal. Peak level, fear increase and decrease are mutually, positively associated with persuasion. Recent studies are only suggestive about these evolutionary systems and future research from this paradigm could be promising. No literature on fear appeals posits direct evolutionary accounts of fear appeals, but most scholars build on simple evolutionary principles for guidance in understanding fear appeals. One step further back to evolutionary accounts by adopting adaptationism and gradual change mechanisms to understand fear appeals seems reasonable. As a starting point, Carver and Scheierâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s (1999) control theory of behaviour demonstrates the affect dynamics of information processing. As Aristoteles stated, people hold goals that they strive to attain, such as their own well being. Carver and Scheier (1999) posit that a monitoring system assesses cues in the environment that signal whether the individual progresses toward or away

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from goals. A meta-monitoring system operates concurrently to evaluate the course and pace of movement. The theory posits that the meta-monitoring system is responsible for the creation of affective states. Negative affect arises from environmental indications that the developments towards the goal are less well then expected and from information that the individual is diverting from the goals. Positive reactions result from greater than expected progress. After a fear appeal, affect and cognition are influenced. The upward change in fear will determine the effects of persuasion, since the appeal will inform to a certain degree that the individual is straying from the goals. Fear appeals present an area of great research. Many questions on how, when and why fear appeals work are already answered. Fear appeals work by motivating individuals by presenting a framework which holds threats and solutions. A person’s ability and way of processing determine when fear appeals are effective. Individuals that do not resist the presented danger can protect themselves by following the message recommendation. This last component is crucial in understanding why fear appeals are effective. First, a greater understanding of the evolution of the emotion fear is needed. Second, proposals like the BIS and BAS could lead to a greater understanding in why fear appeals are effective and how a message can be optimally designed. This would lead to a better understanding of the defensive mechanisms of the self and the interaction with spurious variables like emotions of happiness or personal experience with the situation. Thirdly, combining fear appeals with high accountable emotions seems promising and should therefore be investigated further. Fourthly, different individual affective states during the processing of a fear appeal seem important. Therefore, the sender of the message must time the sending of an appeal in congruence with probable prior moods of the targeted individuals and their environment. Finally, ethical concerns upon the use of fear in campaign should be raised (Snipes et al. 1999) and advertisers have a social responsibility when using fear appeals. As pointed out by Treise and colleagues (1994: 68), ‘consumer opinion that a specific advertising practice is unethical or immoral can lead to a number of unwanted outcomes, ranging from consumer indifference toward the advertised product to more serious actions such as boycotts or demands for government regulation’. Targeted individuals may experiences psychological damages either from the heightened anxiety or from maladaptive responses. Thus, fear appeals are highly effective persuasive techniques that work to influence individuals and society as a whole in a great many areas. Fear is a strong attractor that should be used with delicate care in order to avoid harmful situations for the targeted individuals and must be presented thoughtfully as to diminish situations of ineffective defensiveness. The fear must act as a motivator and the message should be designed in such a manner the processing of the appeal leads to high self-efficacy and response-efficacy. “Let fear be a guiding tool to greater well-being.” Martijn A. Boermans, 19 February 2007

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M.A. BOERMANS (2007) – BACHELOR THESIS COMMUNICATION SCIENCE


Fear Appeals and Persuasion