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Threat, fear, and persuasion: review and critique of questions about functional form

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Shen, Lijiang; Dillard, James Price

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Abstract Theories of threat appeals have been rightly concerned with the form of the relationship between fear and persuasion: Linear or curvilinear. They have not, however, clearly distinguished the question as a between- or within-persons phenomenon. In fact, the literature often treats these two perspectives as if they were interchangeable. We show that between- versus within-person questions about functional form are distinct from one another. Previous research, which is the product of between-persons designs, shows a linear relationship between fear and persuasion. Between-persons studies cannot address the question of how changes in fear over time produce persuasion. Consequently, a major piece of the fear appeals-persuasion puzzle may have been overlooked. Reanalysis of an existing data set shows curvilinearity of fear in within-persons data and demonstrates that the curve predicts persuasion. Audience segmentation reveals different curves for different groups as well as differential associations between those curves and persuasion. Overall, the argument and the empirical results suggest that a great deal less is known about fear appeals than it is currently believed.
Keywords threat; anxiety; emotionality; interpersonal communication; recipient; news; persuasion; influence; perception
Classification Social Psychology; Basic Research, General Concepts and History of the Science of Communication
Free Keywords drive model; parallel processing; EPPM; threat; fear; latent growth curve modeling; health; influenza
Document language English
Publication Year 2014
Page/Pages p. 94-114
Journal Review of Communication Research, 2 (2014)
ISSN 2255-4165
Status Published Version; peer reviewed
Licence Creative Commons - Attribution-NonCommercial