skip to main content skip to footer

Fear, Message Relevance, and Persuasability

Ebert, Ronald; Singer, Jerome E.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Bulletin
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
National Institute of Mental Health, Anxiety, Behavior Change, Content Analysis, Fear, Persuasive Discourse


The conflicting literature on the relationship of fear and persuasion suggests that the relevance of a message to the recipient's source of fear may be a factor in the message's persuasiveness. A person who is frightened may try to avoid a fear-relevant message, one which refers to the source of the fear, as the references and cues contained in the message make her fright more salient. A frightened person may seek out a fear-irrelevant message, one which does not refer to the source of the fear, in order to obtain diversion and lower the salience of the source of fright. Ninety subjects were tested in an experiment which evaluated two related hypotheses: (1) Frightened subjects will be less persuaded than control subjects by a message which is relevant to their fear; and (2) Frightened subjects will be more persuaded than control subjects by a message which is irrelevant to their fear. The results of the study yielded support for the first hypothesis but not for the second. The implications of the positive finding and possible explanations of the negative one were discussed.

Read More