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.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


 Fear appraisal is a commonly used persuasive strategy in advertisements which can help motivate the audience to engage or not engage in a certain activity based upon a fear. This particular image shows a man behind the wheel distracted by a phone call while his partner has a map spread out in front of her and seems to be talking to him about it. Since the driver is not paying attention to the road, his car is about to hit a boy crossing the road. The core message is that indulgence in careless driving can lead to serious accidents. The advert has very creatively merged the image of the boy on the road and a child in the back seat of the car in the rear view mirror, therefore making the image personally threatening by putting it in a ‘it could happen to your child’ frame of reference. This image evokes fear in the target audience and warns them about the terrible consequences in case they do not do what the message recommends, which is to drive carefully.
 Arkoff and colleagues (1965) exposed 7th grade adolescents to either a high or low fear arousing communication about effects of smoking on health.  The high fear arousing condition involved coloured, graphic pictures of cancerous body parts and a very passionate and personally threatening style of presentation. On the other hand, the low fear condition included black and white pictures of diseased body parts and a non-threatening, factual presentation of the illustrative slides. The four independent variables manipulated in the study were: sex of the participants, time of questionnaire administration (immediately after or one week after), academic aptitude (high, medium or low) and the fear condition (high or low).
The results showed that non smoking students exposed to the high fear condition were more likely to change their opinion about future smoking behaviour as compared to those in the low fear condition. It was also found that participants of low aptitude were less influenced than the high aptitude participants regardless of the communication condition. The aptitude difference was greater for opinion about future smoking behaviour in comparison to the beliefs about the effects of smoking on health.

The above study has successfully indicated that high fear arousing information can lead to greater persuasion and changes of behaviour in regards to smoking. It follows from this that the same pattern can be considered for careless driving; that is, emotionally evocative stimuli such as the advert shown above can cause high arousal, which logically would lead towards more opinion/behavioural change.


Arkoff, A., Insko, C.A., Insko, V.M. (1965), Effects of high and low fear-arousing communications upon opinions toward smoking. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 1, 256-266.

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