The fear appeal technique involves invoking fear in a person and then offering the solution for a problem that causes it. it is one of the most famous mental manipulation methods used in various fields from marketing to politics. In fact, it is so common that I bed if you turn on the TV right now and watch an advertisement for 10 minutes, you will recognize the fear appeal used at least once. In this article, I will explain how exactly it works, why it is so effective, how to use it and how to protect yourself against it.
Fear and Humans
Fear for us is an evolutionary trait programmed deeply in our DNA. It is a feeling caused by perceiving some kind of danger. Fear can be caused by the immediate danger that is around us or anticipating it in the future. The main function of it is to change the behavior and it surely is effective. That is why the manipulators decided to start using it as a tool of influencing the minds of others.
Appealing to Fear
The strategy of using fear for own benefit includes first triggering it and then making sure that the following behavior is something one wants to happen. For example, think about how the method is used in politics. Imagine the group of people that is against passing a certain bill. The campaign against it would involve informing people about the negative sides of it, exaggerating the effects, repeating it over and over again and encouraging them to vote against the bill. Such campaigns evoke fear in voters and they often make irrational decisions based on exaggerated or often false information.
Another example would be the usage of fear in marketing and sales. Hundreds of advertising campaigns involve evoking fear in order to sell something to people. Think of all the ads for life insurance telling you how frequent the accidents are and asking who would take care of your family in case something happens to you. Their solution? Sign up for their life insurance, of course!
How to use fear to influence others
Some people might ask themselves: “if everyone does it, why shouldn’t I use it?” and they are completely right. It is one thing to use it for propaganda and deception and another to do it ethically. It is not always necessary to exaggerate something to scare someone. Sometimes the reality is scary enough to trigger the fear and persuade them to change the behavior. It is up to you how to use the fear appeal technique. The formula, however, is the following:
Depict the situation in order to arouse the fear + Have call-to-action ready in order to change their behavior.
Example: Your goal is to convince your boss to implement the new, better safety regulation at your job. He does not like the idea, because the standard one already costs the company money. You are concerned about the safety of you and coworkers. Here, you could use the fear appeal technique, but need to make sure to depict something that actually scares your boss. If you tell him “We might injure ourselves” he will most likely not care enough to approve a new regulation. However, if you tell him “in case of the accident, the workers will definitely sue the company and we will lose millions” following with some facts from the industry, it is likely that he will agree to do it if you use good enough arguments to scare him.
Protecting yourself against a fear appeal
You wouldn’t, of course, want to be influenced by the fear to make an irrational decision. Considering how widespread the fear method is, It is quite possible that you already have been in the past. In order to avoid it in the future, make sure you analyze clearly the information that drives you to make a decision. Check it well if the facts are real, exaggerated or simply false. If somebody is describing you the situation and you feel concerned, first ask yourself: is this person trustworthy? is he doing it to actually help me or does he have a selfish intention? After some time it will become almost instinctive to recognize when the fear appeal method is being used against you.