Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Management and Marketing, Faculty of Commerce


This thesis investigated fear patterns within fear appeal anti-speeding television commercials. A fear appeal is a means of persuasion that threatens the audience with a negative physical, psychological or social consequence that is likely to occur if they engage in a particular behaviour. A pattern of fear is the sequence of fear arousal and fear reduction, if any, that is felt by the viewing audience when exposed to a fear appeal advertisement. Many road safety advertisers use fear appeals, such as "shock" advertising, that result in fear arousal, leaving the viewer feeling extremely tense. This thesis seeks to determine if increasing fear and then providing relief for the viewer is a more effective way of altering social behaviours, in this instance driver speed choice, than simply shocking the viewer and leaving them feeling tense and fearful at the end of the advertisement.

Several studies were undertaken to explore fear patterns in fear appeal anti-speeding advertisements. Given that patterns of fear were the focus of this investigation, a dynamic measure of fear was required rather than the traditionally used post-exposure, static measurement of fear. A dynamic, temporal measure of fear provided responses to each moment of the advertisement, thus providing a more comprehensive indicator of what degree of fear and relief the viewer was experiencing throughout the entire advertisement. This thesis used innovative continuous response measurement (CRM) techniques - a moment-to-moment (MTM) dial and electrodermal responses (EDR) - to determine the fear arousal and fear reduction experienced by participants when viewing fear appeal anti-speeding advertisements.

The first study developed and identified two main types of fear patterns within four anti- speeding television commercials -fear-relief and. fear-only. A fear-relief pattern involves arousing fear and causing the audience to experience an unpleasant feeling that is then reduced by showing the consequences of the recommended behaviour. A fear- only pattern, commonly used in road safety advertising, is created by only arousing fear and not reducing fear by providing relief components within an advertisement.

The second study used an experimental design to test the advertising wearout of fear- relief and fear-only patterns, using both static and dynamic measures of fear. Driverbehaviour simulation tests (the British Video Speed Test and the Australian Video Speed Test) were used as predictive dependent variables in the experiments undertaken in this thesis. The tests involved drivers viewing video excerpts, filmed from a "driver's eye" perspective, of a person driving a vehicle in real driving situations. The drivers were then asked to estimate the speed that they would use in the same situations; that is, whether they would choose the same speed or drive slower or faster and by how much (in miles or kilometres per hour, respectively). The simulated driver behaviour task was shown to be a valid and reliable test of drivers' speed choice across a range of realistic driving situations.

The static measure findings of Study 2, that investigated consumer reactions to fear- appeal TV commercials over repeated exposures, were that emotion and attention wearout occurred immediately for both fear patterns, while persuasiveness of each of the advertisements, in terms of reduction in speeding behaviour, were highest for the fear-relief advertisements. The dynamic measure findings were that the pattern of felt fear and relief, if any, remained constant with successive exposures, although the level of fear experienced diminished by a third (fear-relief) to a half (fear-only). Despite some loss of "fearfulness", the fear-relief commercial continued to be effective in reducing (simulated) speeding behaviour when repetition progressed from moderate to heavy.

The third study also used an advertising experiment to test the effectiveness of fear reduction. However, to provide better control for variations in advertisement content, matched pairs of the four anti-speeding advertisements previously tested were created, thus providing a set of eight experimental advertisements, comprising four fear-relief advertisements and four fear-only advertisements, with a control advertisement group also being used in the final experiment. Participants watched only one of the nine advertisements with quotas being set to evenly distribute participants by gender and previous speeding behaviour. The findings from this study indicated that TV advertisements that employ fear-relief patterned messages, that is, fear arousal then a clear visual and verbal recommendation to slow down, were more effective than fear- only patterned messages, that is, fear arousal and a brief warning only to reduce driver speed. The largest effect of these fear-relief advertisements in reducing speed was for the high-risk group of young male speeders.

The findings of this thesis demonstrate that fear-relief advertisements are more likely to reduce young drivers' speed than fear-only advertisements. Thus, the research findings suggest that it is not an 'amount' or 'level' of fear arousal that drives behaviour change, but the 'pattern' of fear arousal and then fear reduction (relief) that is instrumental to behaviour change.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.