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.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Who will be taking you home tonight?

Every weekday as I’m driving to Warwick through the never-ending road works, minding my own business in the horrendously long tail back of traffic, I glance to the edge of the roadside to be presented with a photo of a small child next to some text: “My Daddy works here, please slow down so that he can come home tonight”. It slows me down every time. This emotive type of effect is widely played upon in road safety materials.

“One for the road?” In 2013,15% of all deaths caused by road traffic accidents in the UK involved at least one driver over the limit (Department for Transport, 2015). As a result, many police forces have focused on the reduction of drink-drive related accidents through drink-drive campaigns. One such campaign involved the production of the above image, placed on billboards around the UK and plastered over social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

The advertisement provides an example of a fear appeal. The inclusion of a funeral hearse is an extreme fear appeal, followed by an ambulance and police car. These vehicles and the people stood with them represent fears common amongst the masses: death, injury and prison. The inclusion of the taxi provides an alternative behaviour that is a realistic action for the target of the influence. This inclusion of a target behaviour to overcome the fear enhances the effectiveness of the advertising and is more likely to result in a change in attitude. This provides an example of protection motivation theory (Maddux & Rogers, 1983) whereby the target of influence can see the possible fears related to drink-driving, desires to protect the self from these negative fears and therefore takes a taxi home (target behaviour). 

In a study by Maddux and Rogers (1983), participants were assigned to one of two groups. Each group was given an essay about the consequences of smoking; one group was presented with a low severity essay and the other a high severity essay. After reading the essay, the participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire regarding their intentions to reduce or eliminate smoking. Additionally, a measure of fear was included and this was averaged to produce an overall fear score for each participant. The mean scores for each group are shown below.

Figure 1. A bar chart to show mean scores of ratings of dangerousness of smoking in the high severity and low severity essay groups.

This shows that participants who read the high severity essay had higher fear scores than participants who read the low severity essay. It is thought that this fear that has been produced will then reduce the target behaviour (in this case, smoking). This is an example of the protection motivation theory (Maddux & Rogers, 1983).

This effect is the aim of the drink-drive advert above; a high impact fear appeal aiming to reduce the number of people who choose to drink-drive.

I know how I'd prefer to be getting home tonight.


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, 19.5, 469-479.

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