Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Fear appeal from a tetchy girlfriend

This text conversation between a girl, Laura, and what is presumably her boyfriend, Bradley, I think demonstrates, though it be somewhat comically, an example of a fear appeal in order to persuade. Fear creates an avoidance tendency, an inclination to wish to remove the danger and so when the persuasive message includes a performable recommendation for escaping the fear then it becomes a likely course of action for the subject. In this case the prospect of losing his Xbox is enough of a fear appeal to persuade him to avoid such an outcome by complying to Laura's request and speaking to her, as doing so is probably a lesser evil than losing his Xbox (though judging by Laura's messages it may not be a lesser evil at all).

Maddux and Rogers (1983) provide experimental support of the fear appeal and its persuasive effects in a study on factors of self-efficacy and avoiding fear, it focuses on the fear appeal with regards to smoking. The study included 153 undergraduate smokers whom were instructed to read four essays, each essay was written in an educational style and each focused on a different aspect, in which the participants were given either a low or high condition. The probability of occurrence (how likely a feared outcome was to occur e.g. lung cancer), the coping response efficacy (how effective the proposed act (stopping smoking) would be in preventing the object of the fear), the outcome severity (how debilitating the feared outcome would be) and the self-efficacy expectancy (how easy the proposed act to prevent the fear is expected to be to achieve). The results were measured with a follow-up questionnaire including questions on participants' expectancy of how likely they were to quit smoking. Results showed, as expected, that people were a lot more likely to intend to quit smoking in the high conditions than the low conditions, i.e. high occurrence probability, high efficacy of response, high outcome severity and high self-efficacy expectancy.

Though interestingly, not all conditions needed to be high in order to generate the most persuasion. For example, with high versus low self-efficacy one would expect to see more effective persuasion when the expectancy of being able to achieve the response was high. This in general was the case, however, there was no significant difference when it was coupled with high response efficacy. Two conditions could be analysed as an isolated pair through between-cell comparisons for the two-way interaction using the Duncan multiple range test producing results as follows:
The table shows that the expected difficulty of achieving a response (self efficacy) makes no significant difference to the effect of the persuasion, providing the response is known to be effective in avoiding the object of the fear (high response efficacy); as shown by the data similarity of 8.3 and 7.7.

While four high conditions is sufficient for the highest persuasion effects in the fear appeal, it is not, as shown above, necessary for all four conditions to be high in order to achieve the highest persuasion effects. In relation to the text conversation there is both significantly high self-efficacy and response efficacy for it is easy for Bradley to achieve the proposed action of replying to Laura and he knows that doing so will prevent the object of the fear as she clearly states it in her message. As for the probability of occurrence Laura appears as if she is about to embark upon a furious march of intention so the likelihood of imminent danger for Bradley is rather intense. The message was an effective form of persuasion, though using fear appeals to compel someone to talk to you is probably a little misguided…

Maddux, J.E., & Rogers, R.W. (1983). Protection motivation and self-efficacy: A revised theory of fear appeals and attitude change. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 19, 469-479

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