Thursday, March 05, 2009

Fear as a motivator

In sum, threat determines the degree or intensity of the response, while efficacy determines the nature of the response. --from "Putting the Fear Back in Fear Appeals: The extended parallel process model"

In this entrance exam season, to some degree or another, students who study for and take these exams feel fear, fear of what their parents will do, fear of what the future would hold, and/or fear of what others will think.

I was interested in how fear works as a motivator, and it is very complex. Sometimes it seems to work and others it has just the opposite effect. For example when a parent tells a child not behave in a particular way, and the child acts in precisely the way the parent warned them not to.

Fear seems to work well in health education programs for some groups. In anti-smoking campaigns, fear appeals seem to work for people who have not yet begun to smoke, or as a reinforcement for those who have quit.

The reliance on fear to motivate students in schools disturbs me, and while I think fear probably works well in short bursts, like getting people out of a burning building, constant exposure to it is something to avoid.

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