Scaring People Can Make Them Healthier, But It Isn’t Always The Way To Go

As my freshman writing students assemble sources for their term research paper, I will point them towards this article, which raises ethical concerns about using fear as a persuasive tool. (Aristotle said that the appeal to fear, like that of lust, reaches our baser emotions; appeals to love, justice, patriotism, etc. are harder to create, but they lead us on the path that makes us better people in a better society.

imageThe use of fear in public health campaigns has been controversial for decades. A campaign with gruesome photos of a person dying of lung cancer to combat smoking might make people think twice about lighting up. But opponents would argue that the photos are too visceral, along with being morally objectionable.

Fear-based campaigns are indeed effective at changing both attitudes and behavior, according to a review of more than a half-century of research. But that effectiveness isn’t the only thing to consider when deciding whether to use fear-based appeals, researchers say. —NPR