The Polish anti-child abuse adverts below published by Nobody’s Children Foundation aims to shock people about the consequences of child abuse and how easy it is to hurt (intentionally or unintentionally) a child, specifically your own child. The advert uses striking, emotion-provoking imagery of broken porcelain children accompanied by a short, non-explicit ‘warning’. One persuasive technique that the advert uses is fear appeals.
Fear appeals link an undesired action (i.e. losing one’s patience) with negative consequences (i.e. abused children). Instead of inspiring awareness or asking the audience to simply ‘stop child abuse’, the advert makes the message personal (“you can lose more”) and offers a specific and doable recommendation to avoid abusing, namely, being patient with your children. The arousal of fear creates an aversive state that must be escaped. While fear appeals are more often used in health promotion campaigns, this advert successfully evokes:
- Fear that there are real people out there abusing their children, to no end
- Fear that something as simple as ‘losing patience’ can result in something so undesired/negative
- Fear that you haven’t done enough to stop the abuse and that this may have contributed to the presented consequences
- Fear that this can happen to your own children and your friends’ children.
Wolf, Gregory and Stephan (1986) empirically tested the fear arousal technique (namely the ‘Protection Motivation Theory’) by presenting participants with a programme depicting the effects of a nuclear holocaust called ‘The Day After’. They measured the viewers’ affect and cognitions using a 7-item mood index as well as a single measure of fear. After viewing the programme, participants’ behavioural intentions (BI), active behaviours (AB) and passive behaviours (PB) against nuclear wars were measured. Compared to non-viewers, viewers indicated stronger intentions to participate in groups opposed to nuclear war, to donate money to such groups, encourage others to become active in opposing nuclear war, work for candidates opposed to nuclear war, learn more about nuclear war, and discuss nuclear war with others.
As you can see in the table above (results from their two-factor regression), BI, AB and PB were all highly significant for viewers in comparison to non-viewers across a number of predictor variables, including affect (fear arousal), outcome severity and perceived capability of engaging in the necessary responses to nuclear war.
The child-abuse advert incorporates these techniques by arousing fear in the audience, illustrating the potential severity of child abuse through a shocking image, and presenting one (of many) responses that is easy to engage in (i.e. disallowing impatience with your children to escalate). This encourages people to engage in anti-child abuse behaviours.
Wolf, S., Gregory, W.L., & Stephan, W.G. (1986). Protection motivation theory: Prediction of intentions to engage in anti-nuclear war behaviors. Journal of applied Social Psychology, 16, 310-321.