"Don't make my mistake": narrative fear appeals in health communication

Joëlle Ooms

Research output: ThesisThesis fully internal (DIV)

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When hearing about fear appeals, people often think of the images of black lungs, yellow teeth, and bloody lumps depicted on cigarette packages. Not only gruesome images, however, are used to discourage unhealthy habits. Some cigarette packages show more narrative images, for instance by portraying a mourning couple next to a small coffin. My research focused on narrative fear appeals: combinations of fear appeals and narratives. I examined how this type of messages could influence people’s health behavior. This dissertation shows that especially transportation, the extent to which people lose themselves in the story, is an important factor. Transportation had a direct on persuasion, but also indirect via the emotions fear, sadness, and compassion. Another variable that can be an important factor in the persuasion process of narrative fear appeals is similarity, the extent to which the protagonist is presented as similar to the participants. Young people in particular should be presented with a main character who is in the same age group as themselves; the gender of the main character matters less. My advice to health campaigners is to take the option into consideration of using stories to persuade their audience, and to take the age of the audience into account when designing such stories. A well-chosen visual mini-narrative may suffice to make the message benefit from the narrative mechanisms: Receivers proved to be able to conjure up a story from no more than one still picture, and such visual narratives may elicit the same processes as written narratives do.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Groningen
  • Hoeks, John, Supervisor
  • Jansen, Carel, Supervisor
Award date17-Oct-2019
Place of Publication[Groningen]
Print ISBNs978-94-034-1941-1
Electronic ISBNs978-94-034-1940-4
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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