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In contrast, when the threat is portrayed as
and believed to be serious and relevant (e.g., "I'm susceptible to contracting
a terrible disease"), individuals become scared. Their fear motivates
them to take some sort of action -- any action -- that will reduce their
fear. There are two general paths people take when they become frightened
from a fear appeal. People can become motivated to control the danger
of the threat or people can become motivated to control their fear about
the threat. When people are motivated to control the danger, they
consciously think about the fear appeal and think of ways to remove or
lessen the threat. Typically, they think carefully about the recommended
responses advocated in the persuasive message and adopt those as a means
to control the danger. Alternatively, when people are motivated to
control their fear, they no longer think about the fear appeal or danger
of the threat. Instead, they focus on how frightened they feel and
they attempt to get rid of their fear through denial (e.g., "I'm not at-risk
for getting genital warts, it won't happen to me"), defensive avoidance
(e.g., "this is just too scary, I'm simply not going to think about it"),
or reactance (e.g., "they're just trying to manipulate me, I'm going to
Perceived efficacy (composed of self-efficacy and response efficacy) determines whether people will engage in danger control or fear control processes. People engage in danger control processes when they believe messages that emphasize how easy, feasible, and effective the recommended response is in averting a serious and relevant threat. Thus, high efficacy messages making people feel able to perform an effective recommended response coupled with high threat messages making people believe they are vulnerable to a significant threat promote danger control responses such as adoption of the message's recommendations (e.g., "I know I can use condoms every time I have sex to decrease my chances of getting genital warts. I'm going to keep some in my purse.").
When messages emphasize a threat but either do not address efficacy issues or portray the recommended response to be too difficult, too costly, too time consuming, or as ineffective in averting the threat, then people will give up on trying to control the danger (because they think it would be futile to do so) and, instead, they will control their fear. Thus, absent or low efficacy messages coupled with high threat messages promote fear control responses such as denial, defensive avoidance, or reactance which result in rejection of the message's recommendations (e.g., "I can't use condoms and even if I did they wouldn't work anyway so I might as well not think about genital warts").
In sum, threat messages determine the extent of a response (i.e., how strong the danger or fear control responses are), while efficacy messages (or lack thereof) determine the nature of the response (i.e., whether danger or fear control responses are elicited). If no information regarding the efficacy of the recommended response is given, individuals will rely on past experiences and prior beliefs to determine perceived efficacy. It is critical to note for the purposes of the meta-analysis that the dimensions of threat (i.e., severity and susceptibility) are additive, as are the dimensions of efficacy (i.e., response efficacy and self-efficacy). However, the relationship between threat and efficacy is proposed to be multiplicative.
Thus, according to the EPPM, in some cases messages arousing fear can lead to adaptive and life-saving actions (i.e., danger control processes) and in others they can lead to maladaptive and potentially life-threatening actions (i.e., fear control processes). As long as one perceives him or herself able to effectively avert the threat through the recommended response, very high fear levels can be induced. However, the second one begins to doubt his or her ability to engage in the recommended response and/or begins to doubt the effectiveness of the recommended response, then fear appeals can produce strong maladaptive effects.
For examples of items from this model, see
For citations of studies examining this model, see http://www.msu.edu/~wittek/vita.htm.