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

R.A.C. Ruiter*, L.T.E. Kessels, G.J.Y. Peters, G. Kok

*Corresponding author for this work

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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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-70
JournalInternational Journal of Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014

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