A meta-analysis of fear appeals: implications for effective public health campaigns

Health Educ Behav. 2000 Oct;27(5):591-615. doi: 10.1177/109019810002700506.


The fear appeal literature is examined in a comprehensive synthesis using meta-analytical techniques. The meta-analysis suggests that strong fear appeals produce high levels of perceived severity and susceptibility, and are more persuasive than low or weak fear appeals. The results also indicate that fear appeals motivate adaptive danger control actions such as message acceptance and maladaptive fear control actions such as defensive avoidance or reactance. It appears that strong fear appeals and high-efficacy messages produce the greatest behavior change, whereas strong fear appeals with low-efficacy messages produce the greatest levels of defensive responses. Future directions and practical implications are provided.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Fear*
  • Health Education*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Persuasive Communication*
  • Public Health*