Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a surprisingly new Sexually Transmitted Illness that has come to be known as the primary cause of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Commonly mistaken as interchangeable names, HIV is specifically identifiable as the transmitted Virus (through bodily fluids, sexual activity, or from mother to child) that invades the Immune System and multiplies within. This consequently weakens the immune system and causes the syndrome known as AIDS. A lot of misinformation around the topic has existed since the mystery illness was raised into the public eye in the 1980s, when transmission and sufferers were predominantly amongst homosexual men and drug users. Stigma and Ignorance thereby shrouded the illness, due to the sufferers being part of stigmatised marginal groups themselves, leading to rumours of transmission being possible through trivial means, such as sharing toilet seats or shaking hands (from a social perspective, using the illness as a means of exclusion and shaming of the sufferers). Over the years, work has been done to correctly inform the public of the Illness’ real dangers, preventative measures and treatment. This was, and continues to be done to hopefully debunk the years of shame and stigma behind this already life-altering illness.
Advertisements that tackle such a topic generally focus along the topics of condoms and/ or medication (with the likes of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, an extremely new prevention drug that reduces chances of contraction of HIV by more than 90%), the illness itself and it’s effects, or treatment and the realities of living with it. All of which generally share a common influential tool known as fear. Persuasion in this context relies on the audience seeing the intended message as a warning; a way of saying ‘This is a terrible thing, you should be scared of it, do this to not let that happen’. Dahl, Frankenberger and Manchader (2003) looked at how participants in a laboratory setting focused their attention and were influenced by a fear inducing stimuls, compared to a shocking stimulus, and an informational stimulus. All of htese mentioned stimuli address the topic HIV/AIDS. It was found in the results that the fear inducing content was much more beneficial for the participant’s retention of the message, attention, and consequential positive action and behaviour.
The change that occurred relied upon the participants’ desire to avoid the fearful and shocking realities presented. Compared to the message that was purely informational, it’s influence unfortunately did not have the same impact. From the perspective of the Elaboration Likelihood model (Petty and Cacioppo, 1986), informational influence would only appeal to the demographic along the Central Route, in which influence and action varies on the message’s quality (a much more variable route of persuasion). Audience specific influence within this context is highlighted in Hill's research (1988) into the relationship between condom advertisements and HIV-related anxiety. Hill looked largely within his research at how the effectiveness of condom adverts (especially those of high fear appeal) varies with an individual's greater level of HIV contraction anxiety. Foster and Byers (2008) looked similarly at individual influence of STI shame and stigma, being possibly related to the likes of sexual conservatism and/or dissatisfaction. What we can deduce from these studies, is that it may be a possibility that individual perspective and stigma could possibly relate to the influence specific advertisements have on us. As well as fear being a strong persuasion technique, we can see that there are a lot of factors to consider when tackling stigma and attempting to inform.
The Above Table shows us the direct statistics from Dahl, Frankenberger and Manchader's second study within their 2003 research paper, providing empirical evidence of as well as the higher percentage of participants having their attention drawn towards the fear stimulus, the p value found through the statistical regression was greatly significant, showing much less variability in the measured Dependent Variable of participants' attention and memory retention of the fearful HIV/AIDS stimulus.
Fear is consistently visible as a motivator for change, whether that fear comes from internalised misinformation and stigma, or as an intended technique of positive change. Addressing such a sensitive topic however, mediums such as Television Networking intentionally filter with great care to avoid overt controversy or upset. Understandably, this creates a fair bit of tension when such a message, for the past 30 years or so now, could potentially save the lives of the uninformed. Abernethy and Wicks (1998) looked into the exact controversy as the issue at hand revolves largely around changing perceptions of a hot topic of prejudice. Airtime was only given to specific AIDS PSAs that adhered to guidelines that avoided the likes of excessive fear.
As a concept itself, fear is pretty fundamental to large amounts of human influence. Appealing to a more instinctual part of our psychology, our desire to avoid as much perceivable pain as possible is more often than not prioritised over the likes of detailed descriptive information (of which can only be conclusively retained by those that can comprehend the details). Therefore, fear being used as a means of destigmatisation is a successful technique of influence (at least within these controlled conditions).
Abernethy, A. M., & Wicks, J. L. (1998). Television station acceptance of AIDS prevention PSAs and condom advertisements. Journal of Advertising Research, 38(5), 53-62.
Dahl, D. W., Frankenberger, K. D., & Manchanda, R. V. (2003). Does it pay to shock? reactions to shocking and nonshocking advertising content among university students. Journal of Advertising Research, 43(3), 268-280.
Foster, L. R., & Byers, E. S. (2008). Predictors of stigma and shame related to sexually transmitted infections: Attitudes, education, and knowledge. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 17(4), 193-202
Hill, R. P. (1988). An exploration of the relationship between AIDS-related anxiety and the evaluation of condom advertisements. Journal of Advertising, 17(4), 35-42.
Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1986). The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (vol. 19, pp. 123-205). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.