Who’s Afraid of Fear Appeals? The Case of Road Safety Public Campaign Announcements

By Pénélope Daignault.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Several methodological and theoretical limits can be raised with regard to studies examining the effects of fear appeals on persuasion. We essentially take interest in one of them, namely the assumption that a fear appeal necessarily arouses fear. We argue that fear is not the only affect that can be triggered from the exposure to serious and personally relevant threats, such as those presented in fear-based messages. Number of emotions, such as anger, sadness, disgust, surprise or guilt can be experienced and it would be reductive to focus solely on fear. The aim of this study is to examine the pattern of co-occurrence of affects aroused by fear appeals, as they occur in road safety messages, and their influence on message processing and acceptance. A total of 92 subjects took part in our study and evaluated 12 road safety messages based on three levels of realism (symbolic-realistic-hyper-realistic). Ten primary emotions were assessed, along with emotional intensity and cognitive responses elicited. Our methodology is based on a validated French version of the Differential Emotion Scale (DES, Izard, 1977) and on the thought-listing procedure. Our main results show that fear appeals generate a whole range of emotions transcending fear, mainly interest, surprise and sadness. Moreover, compared to symbolic and realistic announcements, hyper-realistic messages prompt the strongest emotional reactions and the most positive cognitive elaboration.

Keywords: Fear Appeals, Road Safety Annoucements, Primary Emotions, Cognitive Elaboration

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 4, Issue 5, pp.1-16. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.215MB).

Prof. Pénélope Daignault

Assistant Professor, Information and Communication Department, Laval University, Quebec, Quebec, Canada


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