Table of Contents
Last updated February 19, 2001
SPRING 2001 THEORY WORKBOOK
Explanation of Theory:
The Fear Appeals Theory states that fear motivates individuals to take action to reduce their apprehension about health issues.
Theorist: Kim Witte
Witte, K: Preventing AIDS through persuasive communications:
A framework for
As a theory, Fear Appeals explains how fear can be used as a motivator for positive behavior, a reaction, or even lifestyle change. This theory is very useful among those who must persuade others to make a change in their life when they really do not want to.
Based on the metatheoretical assumptions,
Fear Appeals is a humanistic theory. Epistemologically, the theory holds
multiple truths, because what may invoke fear in one individual may not
be true for another. A situation may have to be more serious for
some than others before fear can become a factor in the decisions they
make to protect themselves or prevent negative consequences from occurring
due to the threat to their health or well being. Ontologically, fear
appeals theory is based on free will. An individual decides when
fear has become the motivator for action to protect themselves. This level
of fear is not pre-determined and is different for everyone, however,
the individual chooses to take action based on the fear they feel.
Axiologically, the theory can move from value conscious to value laden,
as an individual’s values may determine
According to the Farrell’s
Criteria for a useful humanistic theory, Fear Appeals has analytic consistency
because one can easily see how Witte originated this theory based on what
motivates people to take action regarding their health when fear is
Ideas and Implications:
Those who work with people who are placing themselves or others at risk due to harmful behavior, usually need more incentive to stop such behavior than those who are easily influenced. The use of fear to illustrate very real consequences to destructive behavior is at times the only way to encourage change.
Jamie is twenty five years old and has a
very active sex life with multiple partners. Jamie’s close friends
lead similar lifestyles, as they want to experience life to
Effects of fear arousal on attitude change: Recent developments in
theory and experimental research, in Berkowitz L (ed.) : Advances
Leventhal, H: Findings and theory in the study of fear communications, in Berkowitz, L (ed.): Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 5). New York, Academic Press, 1970, 119.
Mewborn, C.R.: Fear appeals and attitude change: Effects of
a threat’s noxiousness, probability of occurrence, and the efficacy of
the coping responses.
Location in Eight (8) Primary Communication Theory Textbooks:
Anderson, R., & Ross, V. (1998). Questions of communication: A practical introduction to theory (2nd ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. N/A
Cragan, J. F., & Shields, D.C. (1998). Understanding communication theory: The communicative forces for human action. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. N/A
Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. N/A
Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. N/A
Infante, D. A., Rancer, A. S., & Womack, D. F. (1997). Building communication theory (3rd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. N/A
Littlejohn, S. W. (1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. N/A
West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2000). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield. N/A
Wood, J. T. (1997). Communication theories in action: An introduction.
Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. N/A