Using Fear to Promote Climate Action: An Analysis of the Effectiveness of Fear Appeals in the Context of Climate Change
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Fear appeals are a commonly used technique to steer a person’s behavior. Past research investigated the effectiveness of fear appeals in a wide variety of domains. However, there is discussion between scientists whether fear appeals do work effectively in general. Besides, there is only little research performed to examine the effectiveness of fear appeals in climate context. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to find more understanding for the working of fear appeals and their effectiveness in the context of climate change. For a fear appeal to be effective, both a threat and coping appraisal should be included. A threat appraisal should include a severe situation for which a person feels susceptible, whereas a coping appraisal includes a component that evokes response efficacy and self-efficacy. To test the effectiveness of fear appeals in climate context, a digital questionnaire was spread among 145 young adolescents. Before answering the questions, participants were shown either a neutral stimulus, a stimulus containing a threat appraisal or a stimulus containing both a threat and coping appraisal. The stimuli were validated beforehand by means of a pilot study. After displaying the stimuli, variables regarding the manipulation were measured, after which behavioral intention was measured as the dependent variable. The results of the experiment indicated no evidence for the effectiveness of fear appeals. In conclusion, we found no evidence that fear appeals are effective for promoting behavioral intentions towards climate change.