Suppose you are watching television, a commercial comes on and portrays a man with a whole in his throat, with a breathing mechanism keeping him alive and a voice box speaking for him. He says that smoking cigarettes were the cause of his cancer, which then he needed this surgery to stay alive. After watching this graphic commercial, would you be less likely to smoke cigarettes? That’s the argument I am critically evaluating throughout this paper.
This concept that I just exposed is referred to as a fear appeal, which can be described as a persuasive message that attempts to scare an individual in order to cause a change of behavior towards the action or idea presented. By critically evaluating five credible sources that come from several different scientific journals, what they all have in common are the three main factors to consider when evaluating a fear appeal, which include: fear, threat and perceived efficacy.
Fear can be defined as a negative emotion that represents an individual being scared of something, not to be confused with a threat, which is an external message that perceives some sort of negative outcome on a situation, which triggers your fear emotion. As explained in the article, “A Meta-Analysis of Fear Appeals: Implications for Effective Public Health Campaigns” by Kim Witte, Ph. D. and Mike Allen, Ph. D. they compare the two related concepts and express that fear and a threat are conceptually different, but they act as almost a reciprocate from each other.
According to the study, and a specific model that was used, the evaluation of a fear appeal includes two factors to consider in which can result in three different outcomes. First, an individual must contemplate the threat of a message. The more afraid they are that a serious consequence would arise, they more thought of the idea of the second appraisal is considered. The second step involves the evaluation of the perceived efficacy of the threat. If the threat does not seem relevant, or it is not significant enough to be considered a threat, then there is less motivation to investigate and the individual may simply ignore the fear appeal.
For example, by referring back to my initial commercial in the introduction, if the viewer does not feel a serious sense of threat, then they would not feel a need to consider the fear appeal. The results of this study portray that fear appeals produce moderate effects for fear arousal, large effects for perceived severity, and relatively large effects for perceived susceptibility (Witte, 2015). The third factor, perceived efficacy, refers to the notion of the effectiveness that the message will have on an individual.
According to “Fear Appeal Theory” by Kaylene C. Williams, fear appeals are most effective when they include both high and low levels of efficacy. That means the message needs to include a significant threat and specific directions that an individual can do in order to decrease the threat of being executed (Williams, 2012). Another study that I have evaluated based on this phenomenon is titled: Beyond fear appeals: Contradicting positive smoking outcome expectancies to influence smokers’ implicit attitudes, perception, and behavior by Sabine Glock and several partners.
The method of this study was to compare participants’ inherent appraisals of pictures showing individuals doing different actions, such as reading a book or drinking a cup of coffee. One of the pictures had the person with a cigarette and an identical picture without a cigarette. The expectations of the initial attitudes were seen to be positive, although the warning labels were expected to change these positive attitudes by manipulating the participants to think that smokers themselves only see these outcomes as positive.
The study was conducted with thirty smokers (21 females) from the University of Treir, Tubingen and Saarland. The average age of the participants was about 21 years old with a standard deviation of 2. 13 and had been smoking for an average of 5. 5 years (SD=2. 46) (Glock, 2015). The pictures used for this study showed 19 situations, each with a cigarette and the identical without a cigarette. By using a computer program in which participants were shown the pictures for only 200 milliseconds, they had to evaluate each picture shown, and press the related key that represents either a positive or negative message.
Following these, each participant was asked to read the warning labels thoroughly. After the study was completed, the participants were given a questionnaire to draw any conclusions found. Then, the effectiveness of the warning labels were tested by using an algorithm, and what they found was that for smoking pictures, participants responded faster to positive then to negative words before even reading the warning labels. To compare this to after reading the warning labels, they responded equally as quick to both positive and negative words.
On the other hand, for non-smoking pictures, the warning labels did not affect the pace of the words chosen, therefore, participants responded faster to positive words than negative words both before and after reading the warning labels. In discussion of this study, warning labels contradicting positive smoking outcomes can make smokers’ attitudes and outcome expectancies toward smoking less positive and even reduce short-term smoking behavior.
It is discussed that health-related warning labels are important for consumers to read and acknowledge, but after so many years of engaging in this behavior, it is contemplated whether or not they continue to portray these negative attitudes or even cause a behavior change. Furthermore, warning labels focused on positive outcomes are not solely for cigarette smoking, but may be useful in targeting other healthrelated behavior like alcohol consumption, or unhealthy eating.
To conclude this study, the results show that seeing warning labels expose positive smoking outcome expectancies made the positive correlation uncertain, because smokers had responded equally to positive and negative words. However, ambivalent thoughts express a fair initial attitude for a possible behavior change. Subsequently, in the article, “Adolescent young adult response to fear appeals in anti-smoking messages” by Graham Ferguson and lan Phau, their findings portray that adolescents and non-smokers experience more fear than others.
In reasoning behind this, it is proven that adolescents and young adults are the main targets for ant-smoking messages, typically because at their age, they are the most likely to experiment with tobacco, drugs, alcohol, etc. which then causes their peers to engage in these behaviors as well. More importantly, fear appeals in advertising gain attention and scare people into changing their attitudes or behavior too. Since this is the case, people who try and depict these fear appeals, may actually fear that it could happen to them, and act to reduce the likelihood.
Lastly, based on another journal article study that was conducted, unrelated to cigarette smoking, the effectiveness of fear appeals was tested in the act of encouraging testicular cancer self-examinations. This study was affiliated with the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism at West Virginia University and was coordinated by Cara L. Slider. Testicular cancer is the most common occurring cancer in males between the ages of 15 and 35. Although, the survival rate is substantially high (99%, when detected and treated early) much research has shown that most males do not preform regular testicular se examinations.
Unfortunately, more than 50% of testicular cancer incidences are reported after the disease has spread past its original site, which causes the survival rate to decrease by almost 50% (Slider, 2009). This study had 130 male participants whose role was to determine their view concerning testicular self-examinations before and after exposure to a fearbased or informational message.
By preforming pre and posttests, to measure attitudes and intentions, any effects can be attributed to the message in a question. The experiment measured perceived vulnerability to the disease, perceived everity of it, and participants’ answers to questions concerning self-examinations before and after being exposed to the fear appeal. Specific information was given in both messages in order to increase the readers’ perceptions of vulnerability and severity of testicular cancer, while the fear appeal emphasized the personal effects of the disease. The results revealed whether or not the message with a fear appeal stimulated a greater change in intentions and attitudes versus if the fear appeal had little or no affect in the change in intentions or attitudes.
One of the hypotheses was that participants, who were exposed to a fear appeal or high threat message will experience a greater increase in severity of testicular cancer than males who were exposed to a neutral, or low-threat message. However, the hypothesis was not supported, and after analyzing the severity aspect, the results showed zero significance between the two groups of males. The main idea of this experiment was to assess the capability of fear appeals, concerning testicular cancer self-examinations of college males.
Although the first hypothesis was not supported by the results, males in both groups reported high levels of severity regarding testicular cancer both, before and after exposure to the fear appeals (Slider, 2009). After critically evaluating several of these studies, it was agreed upon that health campaigns should not only limit themselves to informing people why they shouldn’t behave in a certain way, but also ask why do people engage in this unhealthy behavior initially.
Also I would think to consider all of the variables, (stress levels, anxiety, etc. ) when testing to change people’s attitudes and behavior. Some may argue that the effectiveness of fear appeals may also be aligning with emotional stability as well as the effectiveness of the threat that was appointed. By examining the effect of fear appeals in many different cases, I have come to the conclusions that fear appeals, essentially, do cause a decrease in unhealthy behaviors.