Fear-Arousing and Empathy-Arousing Appeals to Help: The Pathos of Persuasion


Requests for reprints should be sent to Dr. Ronald W. Rogers, Department of Psychology, University of Alabama, University, AL 35486.


An experiment tested the proposition that the components of a fear appeal which persuade us to protect ourselves are the Same components that persuade us to protect others. The results confirmed this hypothesis for the two components examined: noxiousness of the threatened danger and efficacy of coping response. Films showing noxious scenes of industrial whaling and films showing a pro-environmental action organization successfully saving whales from whalers strengthened intentions to help this endangered animal species. Taken together, available data indicate that fear appeals can persuade us to protect ourselves, other people, and even infrahuman animals. The social psychological paradigm used to investigate attitude change was merged with a paradigm employed to examine prosocial behavior. As predicted, an empathy-arousing appeal facilitated attitude change. Three implications for promoting ecological actions were discussed. First, empathy-arousing appeals can be applied to mass media campaigns. Second, the concept of response-efficacy in persuasive appeals can be extended from direct, individual action to activity requiring the mediation of social organizations. Finally, pro-environmental campaigns can be effective when the potential beneficiaries are not the ones shown, but who symbolize the many others in the same plight.