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

The 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.

The findings were published in the American Psychological Association’s Psychological Bulletin, where researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 127 studies involving more than 27,000 people. The study authors found few situations where fear-infused appeals were not effective and “no identified circumstances under which they backfire,” the authors wrote in the study.

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