Using fear appeals to promote cancer screening - are we scaring the wrong people?



Publication Details

Jones, S. C. & Owen, N. (2006). Using fear appeals to promote cancer screening - are we scaring the wrong people?. International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, 11 (2), 93-103.


There is debate regarding the use of fear appeals (emphasizing severe threats to health) in social marketing, to encourage preventive behaviours, such as screening for breast cancer. While it has been found that fear appeals may result in attitude and behaviour change there is also the risk of inciting inappropriate levels of fear, motivating the wrong audience or instigating maladaptive behaviour in the target group such as denial or defensive avoidance. This study examined the impact of an experimental threat manipulation for mammography screening on a group of women in regional Australia. The study found that varying the level of threat had no impact on stated intentions of the women to undergo mammographic screening. However, it also found that high-threat messages resulted in stronger negative emotional reactions and greater perceived susceptibility among younger women who are not the target group for screening in Australia. The results of this study emphasize the importance of limiting the use of high levels of threat in social marketing campaigns, and ensuring that campaigns are appropriately designed to specifically impact upon and motivate the target group.

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