According to the text, fear appeals are generally effective except when they scare people without providing constructive advice for avoiding the feared consequences. Four theories have been used to explain the occasional failure of fear appeals.
The first theory is Witte’s extended parallel process model (EPPM; 1992). According to EPPM, fear appeal messages provoke two different responses from an audience. One possible response is the tendency to control the danger. This response occurs when a person perceives the danger but at the same time feels capable of acting against it. Accordingly, the person is persuaded by the fear appeal and takes the recommended steps to reduce his or her risk.
The other possible response is the tendency to control the fear. This response occurs when the person perceives the danger but does not see a clear way to avoid the risk in the message. As a result, the person tries to control the fear elicited by the message by not thinking about it or by denying its importance. Accordingly, the person is not persuaded by the fear appeal and takes no steps to reduce risk.
The second theory is Lerner’s just world hypothesis (1965). Believing that the world is fair leads people to assume that everyone gets what they deserve. Such a belief allows an individual to disengage from the message in a fear appeal. In essence, the person believes that bad things are just not going to happen because he or she hadn’t done anything bad. So, the message delivered by a fear appeal is likely to be ignored when a person believes in a just world.
The third theory is protection motivation theory (Rogers, 1975). The theory states that when an individual comes across a fear appeal, he or she assesses the severity of the situation, the probability of something bad happening, the likelihood that the recommended actions of the message will help, and his or her ability to follow the message’s advice. When the threat is high and when the recommended actions are clear and doable, it’s likely that the fear appeal will work. When any of those conditions do not exist, the appeal will fail to convince.
The fourth theory is terror management theory (Shehryar