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

Robert A.C. Ruiter*, Loes T.E. Kessels, G-JY Peters, G. Kok

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    245 Citations (Web of Science)


    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.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)63-70
    Number of pages8
    JournalInternational Journal of Psychology
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 24 Feb 2014


    • Fear appeals
    • Literature review
    • threat information
    • persuasion
    • behavior change


    Dive into the research topics of 'Sixty years of fear appeal research: Current state of the evidence'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this