Sixty years of fear appeal research: Current state of the evidence

Robert A. C. Ruiter, Loes T. E. Kessels, Gjalt‐Jorn Y. Peters, Gerjo Kok
Published Online:
24 Feb 2014
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 49 Issue 2

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Fear arousal is widely used in persuasive campaigns and behavioral change interventions. Yet, experimental evidence argues against the use of threatening health information. The authors reviewed the current state of empirical evidence on the effectiveness of fear appeals. Following a brief overview of the use of fear arousal in health education practice and the structure of effective fear appeals according to two main theoretical frameworks—protection motivation theory and the extended parallel process model—the findings of six meta‐analytic studies in the effectiveness of fear appeals are summarized. It is concluded that coping information aimed at increasing perceptions of response effectiveness and especially self‐efficacy is more important in promoting protective action than presenting threatening health information aimed at increasing risk perceptions and fear arousal. Alternative behavior change methods than fear appeals should be considered.

© 2014 The Authors. International Journal of Psychology published by John Wiley © Sons Ltd on behalf of International Union of Psychological Science