Appeals: Fear

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterScientificpeer-review


This entry provides a definition of fear appeals in health communication and a chronological overview of the main theoretical models on fear appeal processing. Fear appeals are threatening health communications that aim to convince their audience to eliminate or prevent behaviors that are damaging to their health. Fear appeals typically stress the severity of negative consequences of not following up on message recommendations, as well as the audience’s susceptibility to these
aversive consequences. By convincing people that the recommended response effectively adverts the threat (response efficacy), and that they are able to follow up on these recommendations (self-efficacy), the audience is expected to engage in danger control, which is an adaptive coping process. However, when efficacy is low, threat appraisal may result in fear control and defensive responding, which interferes with persuasion. Meta-analyses have tested the robustness of fear appeals effects on attitudes, intentions, and behavior, and conclude that fear
appeals are only effective when perceived efficacy is high. This entry concludes with addressing the practical application of fear appeal theory and future research directions.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe International Encyclopedia of Health Communication
Publication statusPublished - 29 Sept 2022


  • fear appeal
  • threat
  • severity
  • susceptibility
  • response efficacy
  • self-efficacy
  • danger control
  • fear control
  • recommendation
  • defensive responding


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