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Effects of fear and specificity of recommendation upon attitudes and behavior

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Deals with the effects of (a) level of fear and (b) specific plans for action vs. general recommendations on attitudes toward tetanus inoculations and actually getting tetanus shots. The arousal of fear resulted in more favorable attitudes toward inoculation and the expression of stronger intentions to get shots. However, actually getting shots occurred significantly more often for Ss receiving a specific plan for action. Although action was unaffected by fear level some level of arousal was necessary for action to occur. A specific plan was not sufficient for action to appear. Although the 2 dependent measures were affected by different independent variables, those people getting shots were also more favorable toward doing so. The results are compared with other studies on fear arousal and actions, and speculations were presented on the role of specific action plans in the translation of attitudes into actions. (20 ref.) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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Journal
of
Personality
and
Social Psychology
196S, Vol.
2, No. 1,
20-29
EFFECTS
OF
FEAR
AND
SPECIFICITY
OF
RECOMMENDATION
UPON
ATTITUDES
AND
BEHAVIOR
1
HOWARD LEVENTHAL, ROBERT SINGER,
AND
SUSAN
JONES
Yale
University
The
study dealt with
the
effects
of (a)
level
of
fear
and (b)
specific
plans
for
action
vs.
general recommendations
on
attitudes toward tetanus inoculations
and
actually getting tetanus shots.
The
arousal
of
fear
resulted
in
more favor-
able
attitudes toward inoculation
and the
expression
of
stronger intentions
to get
shots.
However,
actually getting shots occurred
significantly
more
often
for
Ss
receiving
a
specific
plan
for
action. Although action
was
unaffected
by
fear
level some level
of
arousal
was
necessary
for
action
to
occur.
A
specific
plan
was not
sufficient
for
action
to
appear. Although
the 2
dependent measures
were
affected
by
different
independent variables, those people getting shots
were
also more favorable toward doing
so. The
results
are
compared
with other
studies
on
fear
arousal
and
actions,
and
speculations were
presented
on the
role
of
specific
action plans
in the
translation
of
attitudes into actions.
Information alone seldom provides
suffi-
cient impetus
to
change attitudes
or
actions
toward
a
given object (Cohen,
19S7;
Klap-
per, 1960;
Rosenberg,
1956).
The
information
must
not
only instruct
the
audience
but
must
create motivating
forces
which induce attitude
and
behavioral change. Janis
and
Feshbach
(1953,
1954) were among
the first to
explore
the
effects
of
information which arouses
fear
or
avoidant motivation
on the
changing
of at-
titudes. Their results indicated
that
high
fear
arousal produced
less
adherence
to
recom-
mendations, presumably because high fear
produced responses
of
defensive
avoidance.
Support
for the finding of
less persuasion
with
high-
than
with
low-fear
communications
has
also been presented
by
Goldstein
(1959)
and
by
Janis
and
Terwilliger (1962). How-
ever,
in
other recent studies evidence
has ac-
cumulated which suggests
the
need
to re-
evaluate
the
relationship between
fear
arousal
and
persuasion.
First,
Berkowitz
and
Cottingham
(1960)
have demonstrated
that,
at
relatively
low
levels, increments
in
fear
may
produce
in-
creased attitude change especially
for
subjects
for
whom
the
communication
was
less rele-
vant.
Leventhal
and
Niles
(1964),
and
Niles
(1964)
have also
found
that
fear
arousal
in-
1
This study
was
conducted under United States
Public
Health Service Grant CH00077-02.
We
would
like
to
thank John
S.
Hathaway
and
James
S.
Davie
of
the
Department
of
University Health
for the co-
operation
and
help they gave
to
this study.
creases persuasion.
They
obtained
a
positive
correlation between reported
fear
and
inten-
tions
to act
(Leventhal
&
Niles,
1964),
and
increases
in
intentions
with
increasingly
pow-
erful
communications (Niles,
1964).
These
ef-
fects
were
found
using stimuli considerably
more
vivid
and
frightening
than those used
in
any of the
earlier investigations.
Thus,
these
experiments suggest
that
fear
functions
as a
drive which promotes
the
acceptance
of
rec-
ommended
actions, and, regardless
of the ab-
solute level
of
fear
arousal used
in any
study,
the
communication which arouses more
fear
will
be
more persuasive.
There
are a
number
of
incidental factors
that
may
account
for the
different
results
in
these studies:
for
example, Janis
and
Fesh-
bach's
topic
was
dental health while lung
cancer
was the
topic
for
Leventhal
and
Niles
(1964)
and
Niles
(1964);
Janis
and
Feshbach
(1953) used high-school students, Leventhal
and
Niles used people attending
the New
York
City
health
exposition,
and
Niles used college
students. However, while these factors
could
be
responsible
for the
different
outcomes,
one
variable which seems
of
particular importance
is the
availability
of the
recommended action.
In
their study,
Janis
and
Feshbach
(1953)
suggested
that
fear
arousal could lead
to in-
creased persuasion
if the
action
was
immedi-
ately
available.
In the
Leventhal
and
Niles
study, action
was
immediately available
to all
groups
of
subjects;
that
is,
they could
get an
20
EFFECTS
OF
FEAR
21
X
ray, and, while stopping smoking
may re-
quire concerted
effort
over
a
long period
of
time,
it can be
initiated immediately.
In the
Niles
experiment
the
arousal
of
fear
increased
desire
to
take
action principally
for
subjects
who
do not see
themselves
as
vulnerable
to
disease. Subjects
who
feel
vulnerable
to
dis-
ease showed relatively small increases
in
will-
ingness
to
take
preventive action when made
fearful.
Their
greater resistance
to
persuasion
seemed
to be
related
to
their tendency
to
judge
the
recommendations
to
prevent lung cancer
as
ineffective.
In
addition, subjects high
in
vulnerability scored
low on a
scale
of
self-
esteem
that
relates
to
seeing oneself
as
able
to
cope with
the
environment (Dabbs,
1962;
Leventhal
&
Perloe,
1962).
The findings
sug-
gest
that
when environmental conditions
or
the
subject's dispositional characteristics make
action
seem highly
possible
and
effective,
fear
will
promote action
and
attitude change.
The
present study
was
designed
to
provide
additional
data
on
this
question.
Fear-arousing
and
non-fear-arousing communications were
used
recommending
a
clear action (taking
a
tetanus shot) which
is for all
intents
and
pur-
poses 100%
effective.
Thus,
in
line with
our
earlier
findings
(Leventhal
&
Niles, 1964;