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A new perspective on the relation between fear and persuasion: The application of dual-process models

Lori Helene Rosenthal, University of Massachusetts - Amherst

Abstract

Research on the relationship between fear and persuasion led to a proliferation of conflicting results. The purpose of this project was to develop and test hypotheses regarding how fear might impact the persuasion process delineated by the Elaboration Likelihood Model. Fear could direct message recipients into the central or peripheral route by motivating or distracting them from extensive message processing. Fear could also serve as a peripheral cue. It was hypothesized that fear arousal relevant to a persuasive message would motivate subjects to carefully process the message, therefore, central route processing would occur and the amount of persuasion would be based on message quality. It was further hypothesized that fear arousal irrelevant to a persuasive message would distract subjects from attending to the message so that persuasion would occur in the peripheral route and not be based on message quality. Fear arousal was also expected to act as a peripheral cue, enhancing persuasion by its mere presence. A 3 (fear arousal: relevant, irrelevant, none) x 3 (message quality: strong, weak, minimal) x 2 (topic: heart disease, peptic ulcers) design was used. A secondary goal of this study was to develop a methodology to arouse fear separate from a persuasive message to avoid the confounding variable problem present in other fear appeal research. This was successfully accomplished. As predicted, there was a marginally significant effect demonstrating that relevant fear resulted in a greater disparity between strong and weak messages than no fear arousal for one of the topics. Contrary to predictions, irrelevant fear arousal did not result in smaller differences in persuasion when compared with no fear arousal. There was a marginally significant effect that relevant fear arousal produced greater intentions than no fear arousal in the minimal message condition for one of the topics. The results provided partial support for the hypotheses that fear can motivate extensive message processing and can serve as a peripheral cue. There was no evidence that irrelevant fear distracted from extensive processing. Implications of these results and possibilities for future research are discussed. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Social|Psychology, Clinical|Psychology, Cognitive

Recommended Citation

Lori Helene Rosenthal, "A new perspective on the relation between fear and persuasion: The application of dual-process models" (January 1, 1997). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. Paper AAI9737580.
http://scholarworks.umass.edu/dissertations/AAI9737580

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