Fear Arousing

You turn on the TV and a commercial begins playing. The images of a burglar trying to break into a house flash on the screen as a deep, monotone voice narrates how threats to your home are all around you. The images shift to a picture of a home alarm system while the narrator tells how this product will prevent crime in your home. The commercial for this security system uses fear to motivate its audience to purchase its product. Using fear to persuade an audience is a common but controversial way to appeal to an audience. Keep on reading to learn more about the meaning of Fear Arousing, Effects, and more.

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Table of contents

    Fear Arousing Meaning

    If something causes fear, it causes extreme distress and anxiety.

    Fear arousing, also known as an appeal to fear, is the use of fear to persuade an audience.

    With persuasion, you are attempting to change the audience's mind or behavior. You can persuade individuals using facts, values, or emotions. Fear arousing is a type of appeal to emotion, also known as pathos. Emotions are powerful since your audience can use their feelings to connect with your argument.

    Fear is a strong emotion that comes from sensing a threat to one's safety. By instilling fear in an audience, a speaker or writer can convince them to act to prevent immediate danger.

    Fear arousing is common in advertising and health campaigns. In their commercials, they scare their audience by describing the effects of drugs or not having a particular product that can prevent harm. Companies or governments attempt to influence individuals through fear.

    Characteristics of Fear Arousing

    To help you identify fear arousing in media, you should attempt to identify these characteristics.

    Emphasis on Immediate Danger

    Fear arousing highlights an immediate risk to your safety or well-being, even if the threat is not every day. For example, home invasions with an armed burglar are rare. However, commercials portray this type of crime by reenacting a scene of an armed burglar breaking into a family's home. These images show the immediate danger you could face in that situation.

    Danger Rooted in a Common Fear

    People tend to share fears, such as death or harm to personal safety. Individuals using fear appeals often link the immediate danger to one of these fears. The example commercial about a home security system plays on the common fear of having one's home invaded and having one's life threatened.

    Stopping Danger by Taking Action

    There is a stated or implied way to stop the immediate threat. Usually, the risk ends with individuals taking the advice given by a speaker or found in an advertisement or commercial. For example, commercials advertising home security systems will show a happy family safe in their home at the end after purchasing one. These images signal to the viewer that the immediate danger will end when they follow the given advice.

    Fear Arousal, Outdoor home security system, StudySmarterFig. 1. Home security system companies emphasize immediate danger to convince people to buy their product.

    Examples of Fear Arousing in Communication

    Companies, public health campaigns, and politicians often use an appeal to fear in their communications. The examples below detail how they incorporate fear arousing and their use of the characteristics of appealing to fear.


    Commercials arouse fear in the audience to persuade them to buy their product. As seen in the introduction, a typical example is a company attempting to sell security software. They instill fear in the audience that someone may break into their house.

    Another prominent example is selling emergency necklaces or bracelets for the elderly to notify emergency services in case of severe injury or illness. The commercials arouse fear by showing images of elderly adults lying on the ground in their homes, unable to get help. The immediate risk is the elderly's inability to get help, which plays into the common concerns of risks to personal safety and potential death.

    The commercial recommends buying the product to eliminate this threat.

    Health Campaigns

    Public health campaigns are another example of how companies arouse fear in their audience. These campaigns attempt to deter dangerous behavior. For instance, smoking campaigns portray the devastating effects of smoking. Commercials will contain the impact of smoking tobacco, such as a blackened lung, side effects from surgery for cancer, and damaging throats or voice boxes.

    These commercials and advertisements use people's fear of becoming seriously ill from smoking to convince them not to smoke. The immediate risk portrayed in these campaigns is the severe effects of smoking, and the fear evoked is the serious bodily harm potentially caused by smoking. The recommended action to prevent this harm is not smoking.

    Fear arousal, Anti-smoking picture with man smoking cigarette while left side of face is skeleton, StudySmarterFig. 2. Images like this one are common in anti-smoking campaigns to make individuals fear smoking's effects.

    Political Advertising

    Political advertising also uses fear to persuade audiences to vote for a candidate or support a particular proposal. For example, a frequent attack politicians make against their opponents is that the other does not pursue strict punishment for criminals, also known as being "soft on crime."

    TV commercials use imagery to support this argument. They show images or video clips of gangs and riots while the narrator highlights how this politician has not voted for a particular bill, increasing crime.

    These advertisements use arousing fear by showing violent images to motivate their audience to vote for someone who does not support crime and lawlessness. The immediate danger shown in these advertisements is violent crime, which plays into the fear of one's personal security being at risk. The commercial suggests that the way to stop this threat is by voting for the correct politician.

    Connection Between Fear and Arousal

    There is a reason why companies and politicians use arousing fear to persuade an audience. As mentioned, arousing fear is a type of emotional appeal. People react to their emotions, especially powerful ones like fear. It is an emotion that people experience when they perceive there is a threat to their safety. The perception of this threat causes individuals to act to preserve their safety.

    Companies and politicians hope to persuade individuals to act in a way beneficial to them based on this response. Brain activity is the basis for this response. When an individual experiences fear and potential threats, the brain prompts them to act to preserve their safety.

    This response is why this appeal is called "arousing fear." People have the instinct to act to prevent potential danger. If a company or politician can instill dread in their audience, they can persuade them to follow their recommended action to lessen the danger they are experiencing.

    Effects of Arousing Fear

    Researchers have debated the effects of using arousing fear in persuasion. While arousing fear may be helpful in specific situations, arousing fear can be a type of rhetorical fallacy—and unethical.

    Arousing Fear as a Rhetorical Fallacy

    Rhetorical fallacies are deceptive arguments that have faulty reasoning at their foundation. There is usually an unclear or bad connection between the evidence and the claim. For example, the following statement is an example of a rhetorical fallacy.

    "The sky is blue because the oven is on."

    However, the reasoning ("the oven is on") does not explain the main claim ("the sky is blue").

    Arousing fear can be an example of a rhetorical fallacy based on emotion. This type of fallacy is called scare tactics.

    Scare tactics describe the strategy of using fear to influence the audience's reaction.

    However, there is often no logical reason for this fear.

    When using scare tactics, the writer or speaker evokes fear in the audience by highlighting the most extreme situations that are unlikely to happen. Politicians often use scare tactics in their advertising to arouse fear. Political advertising will show extreme conditions unlikely to occur, such as violent crime overtaking an entire city. By instilling fear in the audience by showing these unlikely situations, politicians hope to persuade people to vote for them.

    Political advertisements are frequently biased but persuasive. Watch out!

    The effect of arousing fear based on scare tactics can have negative consequences. After the Japanese government bombed Pearl Harbor in World War II, journalists and politicians promoted the idea that the United States needed to surveil Japanese-Americans in case they were loyal to the Japanese government. This advocacy led to the internment of Japanese-Americans in camps in the United States.

    This history demonstrates the harmful effects of scare tactics. There was no proof that Japanese-Americans had widespread support for the Japanese government and its actions. However, by using scare tactics and the imagined threat that these citizens would endanger the United States, individuals came to support the internment of their fellow citizens. Scare tactics turn individuals into scapegoats, negatively impacting their livelihoods.

    Fear Arousal, Police car outside of crime scene, StudySmarterFig. 3. Politicians often use these images as scare tactics to convince voters to support them.

    Analyzing Scare Tactics

    When analyzing a persuasive text in fiction or nonfiction, you can analyze a text to determine if a character employs scare tactics. If someone appeals to fear, you will want to discover whether the fear is based on reality or fiction. If the appeal is not based on reality, along with supporting the character's agenda, they are using scare tactics.

    For example, you can analyze how various characters appeal to fear in Arthur Miller's The Crucible (1953). In the play, set during the Salem witch trials, paranoia has taken over Salem as individuals suspect each other of becoming a witch in support of the Devil. Abigail Williams, caught by other villagers dancing naked in the forest with several other young women, falsely accuses others of witchcraft to not receive punishment and to seek revenge against her illicit lover and his wife, John and Elizabeth Proctor.

    Twenty-five people were killed during the Salem witch trials. Nineteen were hanged at Proctor's Ledge.

    Abigail's arguments use an appeal to fear to convince villagers to suspect their peers of witchcraft. For example, in a trial against John and Elizabeth, Judge Danforth suggests Abigail may not be truthful in her accusations. She attempts to convince the court she is correct by stating the Devil is influencing Salem.

    ABIGAIL, in an open threat: Let you beware, Mr. Danforth. Think you to be so mighty that the power of Hell may not turn your wits? Beware of it!" (Act 3)

    She then pretends that she is afraid when she sees an invisible bird, a sign of demonic influence, flying through the courtroom. Her act causes others in the courtroom to panic.

    Abigail's speech and actions are an example of scare tactics. She influences the audience to support her and punish John and Elizabeth. She appeals to the villagers' fear that the Devil will possess and corrupt them. The villagers believe they can get rid of the threat by punishing Proctor and supporting her.

    This fear is not based on reality. Abigail lies about who is a witch to gain status and for revenge. While not directly appealing to the play's audience, The Crucible shows how authors dramatize a character's use of scare tactics to influence and persuade other characters.

    Ethical Uses of Arousing Fear

    Rhetoricians and scholars often consider the use of arousing fear in persuasion unethical. Individuals, such as politicians or CEOs, arouse fear in the form of scare tactics for personal gain or profit. Further, these individuals are manipulating the audience to support their goals.

    However, there are times when arousing fear is ethical. Arousing fear can be ethical if it deters dangerous behavior that puts a person or multiple people at risk of serious harm. Public health campaigns incorporate an appeal to fear in their advertising to prevent risky behavior. Anti-smoking campaigns are a prime example, as stated before. Because of the personal and societal risks of smoking, public health officials may opt to arouse fear to convince their audience not to smoke.

    Arousing fear, Someone buckling a seatbelt, StudySmarterFig. 4. You should be scared not to buckle up.

    Advertisements about wearing seatbelts are another example of ethical fear appeals. Research supports the idea that individuals should wear seatbelts to prevent severe injury or death if there is an accident. Arousing individuals' fear of this harm to encourage them to wear seatbelts is ethical because it prevents widespread injuries and death.

    Fun Fact: In 1959, Nils Bohlin invented the three-point seatbelt for Volvo, which in turn made the design freely available to all car manufacturers. Talk about putting safety first!

    Incorporating Ethical Uses of Arousing Fear

    Depending on your essay, you could include ethical uses of an appeal to fear. Remember, you would only want to include it if your appeal deters dangerous behavior that can put people at risk of serious harm. You would need to address a topic about an action that presents a risk to individuals, and you would want to base your appeal on facts and evidence. Using an appeal to fear, you would want to show your audience what would happen if they did not stop this behavior.

    For example, a suitable topic for arousing fear would be discouraging marijuana use in teenagers. This topic would be ethical since this appeal would attempt to stop behavior that can have severe impacts on teenagers' mental development.

    Ethical persuasion is broadly an appeal to ethos: an appeal to ethics and competent authority.

    To make your appeal, you would want to state that teenagers should avoid marijuana to prevent harm to their mental development. However, you would want to avoid illogical arguments based on unfounded information, such as the slippery slope argument that marijuana use inevitably leads to other drug use. Without hard evidence to back up your information, you should avoid using an argument to arouse fear.

    Fear Arousing - Key Takeaways

    • Fear arousing, also known as an appeal to fear, is the use of fear to persuade an audience.
    • Fear arousing is a type of appeal to emotion, also known as pathos.
    • The characteristics of fear arousing include an emphasis on immediate danger, the danger rooted in a common fear, and a call to action to stop this danger.
    • Common examples of fear arousing include fear-based advertising, anti-smoking campaigns, and political advertising, highlighting the potential downfall of society if a candidate is elected.
    • Arousing fear can be a rhetorical fallacy called scare tactics. Scare tactics describe the strategy of using fear to influence the audience's reaction.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Fear Arousing

    What does arousing fear mean?

    Fear arousal, also known as an appeal to fear, is the use of fear to persuade an audience.

    What are some examples of fear arousing in communications?

    Common examples of fear arousal include commercials and political advertising. Commercials arouse fear in the audience to persuade them to buy their product. The commercials for home security systems are a common example. They show violent images to scare viewers into purchasing a security system. Another example is political advertising. Often, these ads will show images of violent crime to emphasize how an opponent is not doing enough to keep their community safe. 

    Is fear arousing a kind of persuasion?

    Yes, fear arousing is a kind of persuasion. Persuasion is the attempt to change the audience's mind or behavior. By arousing fear, you are attempting to change the audience's mind or behavior using fear. Fear arousal is a type of appeal to emotion, also known as pathos.

    How might fear appeals affect persuasion?

    Fear arousal affects persuasion due to the strong emotion it evokes in the audience. Fear is a powerful emotion. By instilling fear in the audience, a speaker or writer can convince the audience to act.

    Is a fear arousing argument effective?

    Arguments that appeal to fear can be compelling but may be unethical or contain faulty reasoning. Fear arousal can be an example of a rhetorical fallacy based on emotion. This type of fallacy is called scare tactics. Scare tactics describe the strategy of using fear to influence the audience's reaction. When using scare tactics, the writer or speaker evokes fear in the audience by highlighting the most extreme situations that are unlikely to happen. Individuals may use this faulty use of fear arousal in the form of scare tactics they use for personal gain or profit.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    A slippery slope argument is what?

    What is the main issue with a slippery slope argument?

    What is an assertion?

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