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Proposed Fear Pattern Theory


2.3 Fear and Fear Reduction (Relief) .1 Fear

2.4.2 Proposed Fear Pattern Theory

Figure 2.3: Fear-relief (complete reduction in fear)


Duration of advertisement

Table 2.3: E x a m p l e of a fear-complete-reliefpattern anti-speeding advertisement


T h e advertisement would show a driver w h o w a s speeding, and as a

result lost control of his car, drove off the road and smashed his car into a light-pole and killed himself, with viewers being shown the graphic

image of a dead body.


T h e advertisement then showed a rewind of the situation presented in

the first part of the advertisement, followed by visuals of the same driver alive again and driving along the same stretch of road, not speeding, and then arriving safely at his destination, perhaps joyously greeted by a loved one.

relief felt b y the audience that determines the effectiveness of an advertisement. T h e

fear pattern theory proposes that a sequence of fear then relief stimuli will be optimal in causing attitude and/or behaviour change. The proposed fear pattern theory builds on

Ho viand, Janis and Kelley's (1953) fear-as-acquired-drive (drive-reduction) model that was one of the earlier major theories of how fear appeals work, based on the assumption that it is fear reduction that makes such an appeal effective.

Hovland et al (1953) denote the following rules when designing fear-arousing appeals (and for the purpose of this thesis the elements that should be considered when

designing road safety fear appeal commercials). First, are content cues (C) that are the threat stimulus or stimuli intended to evoke perceptions of susceptibility and severity;

second is the emotional reaction (E), that is the experienced emotion of fear if the threat is successful; and third is the reassuring recommendation (R) to adopt the desired

attitude or behaviour (C ». E p. R).

As shown above, the fear-as-acquired drive model posits that the fear-arousing component of the message should precede the recommendation that produces fear reduction. For example, when designing a fear appeal advertisement to encourage women to have regular mammograms, the advertiser could first show the dangers of not having a mammogram (using the physical threat of death caused by not detecting a cancerous tumour and appropriate fear-evoking images), and then follow this message by providing information about the high survival rates given early detection of breast cancer (and showing positive images of healthy women), thereby probably producing fear reduction.

This fear-relief (drive reduction theory) pattern for promoting acceptance of a recommended behaviour is associated with the previously mentioned theory of

instrumental conditioning, specifically, negative reinforcement of "good" behaviour.

That is, a fear-relief pattern advertisement would show an aversive stimulus (the

"threat") that is coupled with the inappropriate response (the "bad" behaviour) and then removed by demonstrating that the appropriate response (the "good" behaviour) will

avoid it.

The processes of positive punishment and negative reinforcement applied to road safety advertising are depicted in Figure 2.4. The flow-diagram process demonstrates that an advertisement that arouses fear by scaring the viewer (that is, a negative stimulus is applied), and then provides relief by explaining or showing the correct behaviour and its harm-avoiding consequences (such as, "if you drive slowly you will be safe") that

reduces the viewer's fear (and "removes" the negative stimulus) would be considered a negative reinforcement approach in contrast to positive punishment1.

Note: Loss of licence (negative punishment, or "non-reward") or bonus licence points (positive

reinforcement or "reward") are legislative methods for changing behaviour, requiring detection and intervention by government authorities. Road safety advertising attempts to encourage behaviour change voluntarily without the need for government intervention. Therefore, only two of the possible four approaches to encouraging safe driving behaviour can be accomplished by advertising alone and will be investigated in this thesis —fear-only (positive punishment or "punishment") and fear-relief (negative reinforcement or "escape/avoidance"). Note also that both approaches investigated in this thesis aim to reduce speeding behaviour rather then to positively reinforce the good behaviour of driving safely.

Figure 2.4: Flowchart of instrumental conditioning processes caused by anti-speeding advertising

Arouse fear- apply a negative stimulus

(by showing the negative consequences of the bad behaviour of speeding, for example killing a pedestrian by speeding in a car and not being able to stop in


Reduce fear - remove the negative stimulus (by showing the avoidance consequence of the good behaviour

of not speeding, for example if a driver drove slowly they will avoid

hitting the pedestrian)

N o reduction in fear - negative stimulus remains

(by not showing the good behaviour, for example, leave the

viewer with the image of the pedestrian's body on the road)

Fear Reduction (Relief) (Negative reinforcement)

Fear Continues {Positive Punishment)

Effect on speeding behaviour {To be investigated by this thesis) Drive Reduction Theory

Drive-reduction theory assumes that "the reduction of emotional tension operates as a reinforcement of the reassuring recommendation" (Janis and Feshbach, 1953, p.64).

That is, once fear is aroused and creates motivation for action (drive), any relief stimuli (such as the recommended behaviour) that decreases the fear is a reinforcement of the

recommended behaviour (Witte and Allen, 2000). Theoretically, then, w h e n the viewer

of the anti-speeding advertisement is driving his/her car, he/she will make the mental operant response of knowing he/she should drive at a safe speed, that serves as a guide for an overt (behavioural) operant response, causing the correct behaviour of driving vrithin the speed limit. Both the mental operant response and the overt operant response are then reinforced (negative reinforcement) by bad consequences not occurring and the feeling of relief from fear that this produces.

The relationship between instrumental conditioning and the drive-reduction model is evident in Job's (1988, p.165) recommendation that "if fear must be used, it should be used in a manner that allows fear-offset reinforcement to follow an appropriate

response". In the case of advertising, the learning takes place by modelling or

observation (Job, 1988). Driving within the speed limit should be reinforced by a fear-relief advertisement, thus this becomes the dominant response ("habit") when driving. Thayer's Model

Thayer's model (1978) of energy and tension (arousal) was previously mentioned to demonstrate a potential drawback of using fear-only patterns within anti-speeding

advertisements. It is now used to demonstrate the likely effect of a fear-relief pattern advertisement. Similar to the beginning component ofa only advertisement, a fear-reliefadvertisement would first produce feelings of tension. The second component of the fear-relief'advertisement, that involves reassurance or recommendations, is meant to reduce fear (tension felt), thereby increasing the opportunity for energy to dominate.

Thus, the fear-relief pattern should be more effective than the fear-only pattern if the recommendation pushes fear back along the curve so that general arousal (energy)

dominates. That is, the audience is left with a "calm" feeling as there no residual general arousal or fear, hence avoiding the negative effects of the fear-only advertisement. Renewed Focus on Fear Reduction

While many fear appeal studies support a positive relationship between reassurance messages and behavioural intention to adopt the desired behaviour, they have not tested the extent of fear reduction required for optimal effectiveness, for example, none of the studies in the meta-analysis conducted by Boster and Mongeau (1984) included a

measure of fear reduction. Sutton (1982) made the point that the 'amount' of fear reduction and 'completeness' of fear reduction required for optimal effectiveness had not been distinguished by previous researchers. Recommended Sequence of Fear and Relief Stimuli

In the fear appeal literature there has been minimal attention given to the specific issue of fear-reduction, however, there has been considerable agreement on the optimal

sequence of fear and relief stimuli that should be used in fear appeal communications (Dolinski and Nawrat, 1998; Skilbeck, Tulips and Ley, 1977; Tanner, Hunt and

Eppright, 1991; Zimbardo and Ebbesen, 1969). Job (1988), for example, stipulated similar points to other researchers in regard to certain conditions to increase the effectiveness of a fear appeal. First, fear should be evoked first before the desired behaviour is offered. Second, the event should be likely (relevance). Third, the desired behaviour should be offered. Fourth, the level of fear should be in line with the capacity of the desired behaviour to reduce the fear. Fifth, the fear offset should occur as a

reinforcer for the desired behaviour. Job has indicated that the higher, or stronger, the level of fear used, the greater the strength of recommendations required.

Using a fear-relief pattern means that the negative effects of fear could be counteracted with elaborated recommendations for how the audience could avoid the threat (Bennett, 1996). Recommendations can give people "a clear idea of the action alternatives that are available to them and detailed action instructions to help bridge the gap between their attitudes and their actual performance or behaviour" (Bennett, 1996, p.457).

Table 2.5 summarises other researchers' opinions of the general guidelines and considerations required when designing fear appeal messages.

Table 2.4: T h e steps involved w h e n designing fear-relief communications



Step 2


Hale and Dillard (1995) Include a threat (physical or social)

Personal efficacy;

and response efficacy.

T h e risk must be personalised to the target of the message,

that is, vulnerability and susceptibility should be relevant to

Job (1988)

Evoke fear

Offer desired behaviour

Event should be likely; level of fear should be

matched by desired behaviour to

L a Tour and Zahra (1989) Create a fearful situation

Solution is provided as a means of

fear reduction Danger is depicted as

serious enough to

warrant attention

Rogers (1975)

Increase magnitude of noxiousness (severity) and the conditional probability (susceptibility) of the event

occurring if there is no behaviour change T h e availability and effectiveness of coping responses, to reduce or

eliminate the noxious stimuli

- Conclusion to the Discussion on Fear-Arousal and Fear-Reduction

There is considerable agreement among previous researchers who have investigated fear appeals on the need for reassuring messages to overcome the threat (Allison, 1991;

Beck and Frankel, 1981; Becker, 1974; Chu, 1966; Mooren and Frape, 1996; Rogers

and Deekner, 1975; Strecher, DeVellis, Becker, and Rosenstock, 1986; Witte and Allen, 2000). However, research that further examines relief messages in fear appeals,

whereby the relationship between fear-arousal and fear-reduction is specifically examined, is required.

Sutton (1982) noted that researchers have not determined the most effective amount of fear-reduction required to result in a desired response, and along with Job (1988), concluded that the relationship between fear arousal and fear reduction needs further investigation. Previous studies have not measured the extent of fear-reduction. It would appear that stronger recommendations might lead to higher acceptance of the message and, with acceptance, a greater reduction in fear. However, a more thorough investigation is required to test the fear-as-acquired-drive model properly.

2.4.3 Criticisms of Previous Research Investigating the Fear-As-Acquired-Drive Model

The fear-as-acquired-drive model was tested by several researchers in the 1950s through to the 1970s, with most results apparently not supporting the theory. However, there are several criticisms that can be made of the studies that have investigated

fear-as-acquired-drive (fear-relief) theory. These criticisms are largely based on the ability of the research design of each study to answer the research question/s. These previous

studies do not appear to represent a fair test of the fear-as-acquired-drive model (particularly in terms of its applicability to advertising), because of a number of

variables, including the participants, sources of threat, length of stimulus exposure, and measurements used in the studies. The following section reviews the findings and

limitations of the two studies that directly tested drive-reduction: Hendrick, Giesen and Borden (1975) and Mewborn and Rogers (1979).

Hendrick, Giesen and Borden (1975) concluded from their experiment that fear reduction was unnecessary for increased persuasion to occur. A major problem with their study was the lack of relevance of the topic (agricultural pesticides) to the participants of the study (female first-year psychology students). If a threat appeal is meant to include a component of susceptibility to the threat, then the target audience should be appropriate. It is likely that threat appeals would not have been properly manipulated because there would be a lack of perceived susceptibility among the participants. Hendrick Giesen and Borden (1975) noted that research needs to be undertaken using topics about which participants have some knowledge and perceive to be relevant. The notion of susceptibility is acknowledged by Witte and Allen (2000) when they discuss the need for the threat to be seen as applicable to the audience.

Mewborn and Rogers (1979) concluded that their high-fear condition produced fear arousal and reduction. However, fear reduction did not result in the expected greater acceptance of the recommendations. Mewborn and Rogers's (1979) study comprised 48 introductory psychology students as participants, with the experiment being a compulsory course requirement, meaning forced participation. There were also four conditions, making an average of 12 participants in each group. These are small numbers, even for psychophysiological recording, and are particularly small for

research using attitudinal scales. The Mewborn and Rogers' (1979) study also required

participants to respond orally to questionnaire items that could involve social

desirability response bias due to the topic of study that was a venereal disease. Also, Witte (1993) criticised Mewborn and Rogers (1979) as perceived threat was not

measured in their study.

The most significant limitation of many of the previous studies that have investigated the effectiveness of fear appeals (and not necessarily confined to studies examining the fear-as-acquired-drive model), that is most relevant to the justification for re-testing the drive theory model, and that is addressed by the new research in this thesis, is the way fear is measured. Previous studies have mainly used a static, post-exposure (or even during-exposure), measure of fear arousal (and sometimes fear reduction). However,

static measurement is unlikely to capture viewers' reactions during the entire fear appeal and cannot establish whether the correct negative reinforcement pattern occurred. Re-Testing the Fear-As-Acquired-Drive Model

It is proposed that how fear is measured is of particular importance when investigating patterns of fear as it is possible that measures may indicate different responses. The only reasonable way to test the fear-as-acquired-drive model is to assess the dynamic pattern of fear arousal and fear reduction (relief) throughout the fear appeal

advertisement. This is the major reason for re-testing the fear-as-acquired-drive model in this thesis.

This thesis uses innovative measurement techniques, involving moment-to-moment (MTM) recording of responses, to identify fear patterns within anti-speeding

advertisements. That is, to determine whether fhe fear-only pattern indeed ends by

leaving the audience fearful, with no or little reduction of fear and if'the fear-relief

pattern ends by leaving the audience relieved and calm with significant fear reduction.

A description and justification of these new measures are detailed in Chapter 3 of this thesis.

Study 1 of this thesis (presented in Chapter 4) identifies the fear patterns, with the underlying fear-as-acquired-drive theory discussed in this chapter being carried through to the following studies. The fear patterns and relevant drive-theories are also examined in Study 2 (presented in Chapter 5), in a repeated exposure condition. Theory and

research findings on repetition of fear appeals will now be briefly reviewed as a precursor to Study 2.