Ignoring theory and misinterpreting evidence

the false belief in fear appeals

Gerjo Kok, Gjalt-Jorn Y Peters, Loes T.E. Kessels, Gill A. ten Hoor, Robert A.C. Ruiter

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Use of fear appeals assumes that when people are emotionally confronted with the negative effects of their behaviour they will change that behaviour. That reasoning is simple and intuitive, but only true under specific, rare circumstances. Risk perception theories predict that if people will experience a threat, they want to counter that threat. However, how they do so is determined by their coping efficacy level: if efficacy is high, they may change their behaviour in the suggested direction; if efficacy is low, they react defensively. Research on fear appeals should be methodologically sound, comparing a threatening to a non-threatening intervention under high and low efficacy levels, random assignment and measuring behaviour as outcome. We critically review extant empirical evidence and conclude that it does not support positive effects of fear appeals. Nonetheless, their use persists and is even promoted by health psychology researchers, causing scientific insights to be ignored or misinterpreted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-125
Number of pages15
JournalHealth Psychology Review
Volume12
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Fingerprint

Fear
Behavioral Medicine
Research Personnel
Research

Keywords

  • 2-YEAR FOLLOW-UP
  • AROUSING COMMUNICATIONS
  • BEHAVIOR-CHANGE
  • CIGARETTE WARNING LABELS
  • Fear appeals
  • HEALTH MESSAGES
  • NEUROSCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE
  • PROTECTION MOTIVATION THEORY
  • SELF-AFFIRMATION
  • SHOWING LEADS
  • SMOKING-CESSATION PROGRAMS
  • extended parallel process model
  • graphic health warnings
  • review
  • threatening communication

Cite this

Kok, Gerjo ; Peters, Gjalt-Jorn Y ; Kessels, Loes T.E. ; ten Hoor, Gill A. ; Ruiter, Robert A.C. / Ignoring theory and misinterpreting evidence : the false belief in fear appeals. In: Health Psychology Review. 2018 ; Vol. 12, No. 2. pp. 111-125.
@article{55c1112ed63d4da5aba2391e666f9859,
title = "Ignoring theory and misinterpreting evidence: the false belief in fear appeals",
abstract = "Use of fear appeals assumes that when people are emotionally confronted with the negative effects of their behaviour they will change that behaviour. That reasoning is simple and intuitive, but only true under specific, rare circumstances. Risk perception theories predict that if people will experience a threat, they want to counter that threat. However, how they do so is determined by their coping efficacy level: if efficacy is high, they may change their behaviour in the suggested direction; if efficacy is low, they react defensively. Research on fear appeals should be methodologically sound, comparing a threatening to a non-threatening intervention under high and low efficacy levels, random assignment and measuring behaviour as outcome. We critically review extant empirical evidence and conclude that it does not support positive effects of fear appeals. Nonetheless, their use persists and is even promoted by health psychology researchers, causing scientific insights to be ignored or misinterpreted.",
keywords = "2-YEAR FOLLOW-UP, AROUSING COMMUNICATIONS, BEHAVIOR-CHANGE, CIGARETTE WARNING LABELS, Fear appeals, HEALTH MESSAGES, NEUROSCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE, PROTECTION MOTIVATION THEORY, SELF-AFFIRMATION, SHOWING LEADS, SMOKING-CESSATION PROGRAMS, extended parallel process model, graphic health warnings, review, threatening communication",
author = "Gerjo Kok and Peters, {Gjalt-Jorn Y} and Kessels, {Loes T.E.} and {ten Hoor}, {Gill A.} and Ruiter, {Robert A.C.}",
year = "2018",
doi = "10.1080/17437199.2017.1415767",
language = "English",
volume = "12",
pages = "111--125",
journal = "Health Psychology Review",
issn = "1743-7199",
publisher = "Taylor & Francis Group",
number = "2",

}

Ignoring theory and misinterpreting evidence : the false belief in fear appeals. / Kok, Gerjo; Peters, Gjalt-Jorn Y; Kessels, Loes T.E.; ten Hoor, Gill A.; Ruiter, Robert A.C.

In: Health Psychology Review, Vol. 12, No. 2, 2018, p. 111-125.

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

TY - JOUR

T1 - Ignoring theory and misinterpreting evidence

T2 - the false belief in fear appeals

AU - Kok, Gerjo

AU - Peters, Gjalt-Jorn Y

AU - Kessels, Loes T.E.

AU - ten Hoor, Gill A.

AU - Ruiter, Robert A.C.

PY - 2018

Y1 - 2018

N2 - Use of fear appeals assumes that when people are emotionally confronted with the negative effects of their behaviour they will change that behaviour. That reasoning is simple and intuitive, but only true under specific, rare circumstances. Risk perception theories predict that if people will experience a threat, they want to counter that threat. However, how they do so is determined by their coping efficacy level: if efficacy is high, they may change their behaviour in the suggested direction; if efficacy is low, they react defensively. Research on fear appeals should be methodologically sound, comparing a threatening to a non-threatening intervention under high and low efficacy levels, random assignment and measuring behaviour as outcome. We critically review extant empirical evidence and conclude that it does not support positive effects of fear appeals. Nonetheless, their use persists and is even promoted by health psychology researchers, causing scientific insights to be ignored or misinterpreted.

AB - Use of fear appeals assumes that when people are emotionally confronted with the negative effects of their behaviour they will change that behaviour. That reasoning is simple and intuitive, but only true under specific, rare circumstances. Risk perception theories predict that if people will experience a threat, they want to counter that threat. However, how they do so is determined by their coping efficacy level: if efficacy is high, they may change their behaviour in the suggested direction; if efficacy is low, they react defensively. Research on fear appeals should be methodologically sound, comparing a threatening to a non-threatening intervention under high and low efficacy levels, random assignment and measuring behaviour as outcome. We critically review extant empirical evidence and conclude that it does not support positive effects of fear appeals. Nonetheless, their use persists and is even promoted by health psychology researchers, causing scientific insights to be ignored or misinterpreted.

KW - 2-YEAR FOLLOW-UP

KW - AROUSING COMMUNICATIONS

KW - BEHAVIOR-CHANGE

KW - CIGARETTE WARNING LABELS

KW - Fear appeals

KW - HEALTH MESSAGES

KW - NEUROSCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE

KW - PROTECTION MOTIVATION THEORY

KW - SELF-AFFIRMATION

KW - SHOWING LEADS

KW - SMOKING-CESSATION PROGRAMS

KW - extended parallel process model

KW - graphic health warnings

KW - review

KW - threatening communication

U2 - 10.1080/17437199.2017.1415767

DO - 10.1080/17437199.2017.1415767

M3 - Review article

VL - 12

SP - 111

EP - 125

JO - Health Psychology Review

JF - Health Psychology Review

SN - 1743-7199

IS - 2

ER -