|4th September 2016
Since the mid-1950s, fear appeals have been applied in an effort to reduce a number of risky, yet modifiable, health related behaviours.¹ Today, they still remain a popular technique for creative agencies, researchers, interventionists, and policy makers.² Even influential bodies such as the World Health Organisation argue in favour of one of the best-illustrated examples of fear appeals; the health warnings on cigarette packages.³ However, if you ask a smoker about the warnings, you’ll often hear “I just ignore the warnings”, or “that’s not me so why would it affect me”.
So, can fear really motivate someone to change their behavior? Can it make a healthcare professional (HCP) choose one treatment over the other? Can it make a patient more adherent to their treatment or encourage them to exercise more, or change their diet? Can it make an HCP prescribe a treatment sooner rather than later?
Despite caution from some researchers, Client Lead Natalie Seebeck explains that applying fear-based models, specifically Protection Motivation Theory (PMT) and the Extended Parallel Processing Model (EPPM), in communications can be effective, if the right components are used in the right way.
According to widely adopted fear appeal theories, such as PMT and EPPM, fear appeals are persuasive communications that consist of two key components:
Once these are presented, an individual’s evaluation or appraisal of these components is expected to result in a motivation to change behaviour.
PMT, or Protection Motivation Theory, says that a change response is the result of two integrated appraisal processes: firstly a threat appraisal, followed by a coping appraisal.⁵
The theory states that if the coping appraisal outweighs the threat appraisal, the individual will be motivated and implement the recommended “self-protective” behaviour.⁵
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