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

Int J Psychol. 2014 Apr;49(2):63-70. doi: 10.1002/ijop.12042. Epub 2014 Feb 24.


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.

Keywords: Behavior change; Fear appeals; Literature review; Persuasion; Threat information.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Control / methods*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Fear*
  • Health Education / methods*
  • Health Education / trends
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Health Promotion / trends
  • Humans
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Persuasive Communication*
  • Risk Reduction Behavior
  • Self Efficacy*