Fear Appeals

DoD Joint Course in Communication

Full Text
Fear Appeal

Response Efficacy
Content Analysis

Univ. of Okla.


           The purpose of this study was to examine the use of fear appeal messages in military radio-based health promotion campaigns.  Specifically, this paper reports the findings of a content analysis of a convenience sample of PSAs in terms of the severity, susceptibility, efficacy, and self-efficacy themes in the fear messages.

Although radio spots are not the only channel for communicating messages about health and safety to servicemembers, while overseas it may be the most efficient.  AFRTS radio spots are aired to an audience stationed abroad, and often the AFRTS broadcast is one of the few if not the only English language broadcasts available.  Therefore, by default, DoD has a captured audience and a direct channel to those who the messages are targeted toward.

Previous research shows that the use of fear appeals in PSAs sometimes alienates the audience and pushes it away from the intended action (Janis, 1953).  Using the EPPM helps identify the steps that will help avoid this.  Strict DoD budget constraints demand efficiency and effectiveness in PSA construction.  Therefore, the authors analyzed the available health and safety-related spots to determine whether empirically supported methods were employed when constructing the messages.  In general, these theoretical constructs appear to be guiding the majority of the military PSA designers.  Results of this study indicate that the majority of the key variables (severity, susceptibility, response efficacy, and self-efficacy) are being included in the design of military health messages.  However, the results also indicate that only 62.1 percent of the messages are employing all of the above, as the model (Witte, 1992) suggests is most effective.  62.1 percent is satisfactory, but there is room for improvement if these spots are going to successfully change attitudes and behaviors.

In addition, this study does not allow one to conclude that these messages that employed all of the suggested elements are necessarily effective.  Further research is necessary in this area to better understand the impact of the messages.  The next step in this line of research may be to better understand the military audience, so that PSAs can be tailored to the audience's specific tastes.  It might also be valuable to test messages before going worldwide with campaigns.  The process of message development needs to be studied in regard to target audiences, campaign objectives, and message appeals.  Further studies may find that different levels of severity, susceptibility, response efficacy, and self-efficacy may be needed to most successfully persuade the military audience.

          The findings of this study are important when one considers the huge cost of military health care and an increased reliance on preventive medicine.  By better understanding how fear appeals work and how health and safety PSAs can be made better, the Defense Department should be able to develop a safer, healthier servicemember, bringing long-term medical costs down, and plotting the course for healthier living for its members.