“You may have a cancer-causing virus and not even know it” Fear appeals in online news

  • Brad Love University of Texas
  • Michael S. Mackert University of Texas
Keywords: online news, fear appeal, public health, public relations, cancer communication, infection control


Most explanations of health risks are presented as “fear appeals,” messages that attempt to arouse fear to modify personal behavior. The central goal of this research is to assess fear appeal performance in online news while examining several research-design issues. Looking at digital news content as fear appeals will expand the scope of research into a new area, and more effective measurement and induction will avoid some common pitfalls. An online experiment produced data indicating that perceived threat and efficacy relationships developed as expected in online news and that improvements in research-design artifacts strongly affect observed variable relationships. Fear appeal and efficacy messages included in digital media content seem to be effective means to altering individual behavioral intentions.

Author Biographies

Brad Love, University of Texas
Belo Center for New Media, College of Communication, assistant professor
Michael S. Mackert, University of Texas
Department of Advertising and Public Relations and School of Public Health, associate professor
How to Cite
Love, B., & Mackert, M. S. (2014). “You may have a cancer-causing virus and not even know it” Fear appeals in online news. First Monday, 19(2). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v19i2.4368