Leventhal, H., Singer, R., Jones, S., Effects of Fear and Specificity
of Recommendation Upon Attitudes and Behavior, JPSP, 1965, 2, 20-29.
There is a debate as to whether arousing fear in subjects will help
or hurt persuasion and resulting intentions to act. The researchers found
in a previous study that high fear arousing techniques can make people more
receptive to recommendations, and that communication that arouses more fear
can be more persuasive.
Further studies have shown that the immediate availability for action and
the subject's predisposition to the potential success of that action also
have a big effect on whether people will act.
This experiment attempted to see if high-fear or low-fear communications
had an effect, with the initial variable being whether the subjects were
presented with a specific plan of action on how to act.
Students were informational booklets (either high-fear arousing or low-fear
arousing) explaining tetanus and the benefits of tetanus innoculations..
The condition with high-specificity of action got detailed plans and maps
on how to get shots. The low-specificity were only told that shots were
After reading the booklets all students filled out questionnaires. They
also noted which students actually went to the health service to get shots.
The high-fear booklets did produce more anxiety as reported in the questionnaires.
They also reported more intent to get shots than the low-fear group (but
didn't follow up on it). Those who received more specific information on
how to get shots were more likely to get them than those with less specific
information (though no-one in a control group who didn't read the booklets
but got the specific info went to get shots).
"The analysese to this point appear to indicate that fear arousal is
sufficient to influence attitudes while both arousal stimuli and specific
recommendations are needed for action."
The test basically shows that you must arouse a person to the benefits of
a change and provide a clear path of action for that change to facilitate