Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

Document Type



A fear appeal has become a common way to describe a message created by individuals, groups, or entities to achieve an array of social and political goals. For instance, law firms may use fear-based advertisements on television by listing several debilitating diseases to educate potential clients about the side effects of certain drugs. In the realm of politics, candidates may use fear-based appeals in their messages as well: certain Republican candidates use the fear of attacks similar to the ones of September 11, 2001, to “scare” the American people into voting for the candidate who would best protect the country from another tragedy. On the other side of the political aisle, Democrats tap into elements of fear promoting the idea that their political opponents are encouraging a “war on women” or an elimination of the middle-class due to favorable economic policies aimed at the wealthy. Are these messages, however, actually producing “fear” in audiences? Results of this dissertation, specifically those results gathered in Chapter IV, suggest that fear is the primary emotion respondents report after viewing a threat-based political advertisement. In this dissertation, I explore studies of demographics and emotions to see how much of a role, if any, group affiliations play on respondents’ reports of felt emotions, specifically the emotion of fear. I also examine a prominent political advertisement from the 2012 Republican primaries designed to instill fear, worry, or anxiety in its audience. I argue that audience responses to so-called fear appeals are based more in socialization and group affiliation than due to a biological reaction of fear to a certain stimulus brought about in the message. In fact, much more so than fear, disgust is the primary emotion respondents report feeling in response to watching the infamous political advertisement from the 2012 U.S. presidential campaigns referred to above. Limitations of the study and areas for future research are discussed in the final chapter.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Honeycutt, James M.



Included in

Communication Commons