Fear Arousal in Public Health Campaigns

Main Argument

The article “Can Fear Arousal in Public Health Campaigns Contribute to the Decline of HIV Prevalence?” examines the use of fear arousal in public health campaigns as a means of compelling people to change behavior. The approach relies on scaring the public to adopt better practices aimed at reducing HIV prevalence across populations. The authors investigate the acceptance and effectiveness of “fear appeal” in HIV/AIDS education and prevention. Although American health professionals cast doubt on the efficacy of fear, their African counterparts believe that it yields some positive results. Americans dismiss it on the basis that it results in temporary behavior changes. Their perspective on the strategy leads them to regard fear as an amateurish effort at addressing the HIV epidemic. The authors review the use of fear arousal by presenting different views on the method in prevention campaigns. Thus, they argue that the approach results in fear-motivated behavior change under specific conditions.


The authors hypothesize that Americans rejected the use of fear without necessarily explaining why they dismissed the tactic. The American prevention model, which is the template for the global AIDS prevention plan, does not support the fear appeal. Instead, it condemns and regards it as a taboo. Therefore, professionals overlook the positive impact that fear-based campaigns had across particular subsets of the population. The authors examine the claim that fear-based campaigns are productive in enhancing substantial and sustainable behavior changes. By relying on evidence as well as feedback from international public health professionals, the article asserts that HIV infection rates reduced significantly in certain areas. Despite the achievement of desired changes, American experts disregard programs that use fear to create awareness.


The primary findings from reviewing the literature on fear strategies indicate that the method has existed for an extended period. Analysis of early studies on the effectiveness of the technique reveals that experts perceived it as risky. However, the information is not evidence-based. A broader review of the material shows that fear-arousing messages can consistently generate positive behavior change. The impact of fear appeal is even higher when paired with self-efficacy. People behave ineffectually whenever perceptions of efficacy are low. Alternatively, the belief that they can succeed to avoid threats associated with the disease due to aroused fear results in long-term behavior change. Besides, the success of the AIDS prevention model in Uganda that relied on the inclusion of fear appeals proofs that the intervention works.

Take Away

This reading implies that fear-based strategies have a role to play in reducing HIV prevalence in communities. Though American and European professionals dismiss the value of fear, it has helped in the fight against AIDS. Its success stems from a personal appeal that makes people conscious of risks and adverse effects of contracting the illness. Thus, the objection by donors as well as advisors that opposes the approach is unfounded. The information in the articles is essential to cover in class since it highlights the need to re-examine a policy that was crucial curbing infection rates. Students also need to understand the origin of beliefs that influence American perspectives on the strategy. With the knowledge, they can contribute to the debate and challenge ideologies on the use of fear appeal.


The material covered in the article is quite informative. It can help in the formulation of a public health communication campaign. Persons involved in designing of information, education, and communication (IEC) programs aimed at educating populations need a strategic approach. Incorporation of fear-based messages in campaigns is an excellent example of an applicable method. A review of the literature on fear appeal identifies it as a preventive strategy that resonated with the public under certain conditions. While the messages should not advance stigma against people living with the disease, they should utilize elements that provoke thought and risk perception. Thus, embracing a gentle approach, when creating material for health promotion campaigns, may not necessarily help to achieve the intended objectives.


There is trouble understanding the precise factor or source of motivation for rejection of a fear-based method in combating with the spread of HIV. American AIDS experts hold a skewed viewpoint of the tactic yet there is data that shows it works. Terming of fear-based communication as inherently wrong is troubling since the adoption of soft, less scary messages has not helped reduce infection rates. Besides, the persistence of a belief that fear’s appeals are counterproductive is question-worthy given that it relies on unempirical studies. Also, there is a need for more information on why Western AIDS experts dismiss that fear-motivated behavior changes are possible.

Closing Section

McGuire’s input or output persuasion matrix is applicable in the context of health campaign designs. The theoretical foundations of the model make it suitable to target large audiences. McGuire’s model can facilitate the creation of communication campaigns that seek to alter beliefs and behavior. By manipulating inputs such as messages, channels, and intent, health professionals can design unique and informative material. The matrix’s output entails an assessment of public response to the information, mode of transmission and its objective. By changing the audience’s attitude, the designs can lead to long-term behavior change. Thus, the successful use of the persuasion matrix may make people decide to act and reinforce behavior change.

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