Protection-Motivation Theory

Fear appeals are used in various areas of people's lives to minimize undesired behavior with harmful consequences or to induce desired behavior to avoid harmful events. These fear appeals are commonly used by parents, politicians, advertisers, and even organizations, such as in the health sector, to encourage these behaviors (Rogers, 1983).

Besides the extension of the drive model (Janis, 1967), where fear was considered an acquired drive whereby people felt fear through persuasive communication seeking to reduce this state, Leventhal (1970) also implemented a parallel response model where a danger control process or a fear control process can be triggered, which can run either in parallel or independently of each other. These earlier theories of fear and persuasion also contributed to today's protection motivation theory, as Jani's model, for example, was demoted due to inconsistencies in the theory (Rogers, 1983).

The original protection motivation theory, published by Ronald W. Rogers in 1975 and later revised and republished in 1983, aimed to understand individual human responses to these fearful stimuli.

The protection motivation theory model is based on two components that individuals evaluate to protect themselves: the threat appraisal and the coping appraisal (De Keyzer et al., 2021). The threat appraisal consists of the perception of the severity of the harm, for example, smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer, and the perception of the probability of occurrence of the harm, for example, the belief in the likelihood that the individual may be affected by lung cancer. The coping appraisal, on the other hand, consists of the perceived efficacy of an individual's response or the expectation that performing the action taken will eliminate the threat, for example, that quitting smoking will be effective in protecting oneself from the disease (i.e., lung cancer), and the perceived self-efficacy to perform the action (i.e., quitting smoking) (Arthur & Quester, 2004).

According to Rogers (1983), six conditions must be met for the protection motivation theory to occur. These are illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Protection-Motivation Model (Rogers, 1983)

These six conditions consist of the individual believing first that the threat is severe, second that the individual is vulnerable, third that the individual can implement the coping behavior, fourth that the response is efficient, fifth that the aspects that reduce the likelihood of the maladaptive response compensate for the rewards associated with the maladaptive response, and sixth that the aspects that increase the likelihood of the adaptive response offset the expenses of the adaptive response (Rogers, 1983).

Meaning that out of the rewards which positively reinforce the maladaptive behavior, intrinsic rewards (e.g., gratification) and extrinsic rewards (e.g., social recognition), the severity of the threat and the vulnerability to the threat are subtracted to calculate the level of threat experienced (Arthur & Quester, 2004).

In addition, the cost of performing this coping behavior, which can be physical or psychological (e.g., enduring withdrawal symptoms), the effectiveness of the coping behavior, and self-efficacy are subtracted to determine the degree to which coping is valued (Arthur & Quester, 2004).

In advertising, fear appeals are demonstrably used to promote products and services to persuade individuals to buy (Arthur & Quester, 2004). The protection motivation theory is applied in several advertising campaigns to persuade consumers to purchase. Not only do health campaigns use the protection motivation theory to promote products and services, but also everyday products such as mouthwash or cleaning products are marketed through the theory. Potential consumers are confronted with physical, psychological, and social threats in advertising, which lead to a coping response. The fear appeals of advertisers should carefully and thoughtfully present the severity of the threat to avoid triggering inappropriate fears.

In the 2004 research paper by Damien Arthur and Pascale Quester, a revised model of protection motivation theory was proposed with two segmentation variables (i.e., social context and authoritarianism). An experimental study was conducted on adolescents aged 16 to 25 responding to anti-smoking advertisements. The role of anxiety and the influence of individual personality traits were examined. The study showed a positive correlation between the level of anxiety triggered by the advertisements and their persuasiveness. In addition, the results also indicated that individuals with higher levels of authoritarianism have greater behavioral intentions when confronted with fear appeals than individuals with low levels of authoritarianism (Arthur & Quester, 2004).


Arthur, D., & Quester, P. (2004). Who's afraid of that ad? Applying segmentation to the protection motivation model. Psychology & Marketing, 21(9), 671-696.

De Keyzer, F., Dens, N., & De Pelsmacker, P. (2022). How and when personalized advertising leads to brand attitude, click, and WOM intention. Journal of Advertising, 51(1), 39-56.

Janis, I. L. (1967). Effects of fear arousal on attitude change: Recent developments in theory and experimental research. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 3, 166-224.

Leventhal, H. (1970). Findings and theory in the study of fear communications. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 5, 119-186.

Rogers, R. W. (1975). A protection motivation theory of fear appeals and attitude change. The Journal of Psychology, 91(1), 93-114.

Rogers, R. W. (1983). Cognitive and physiological processes in fear appeals and attitude change: A revised theory of protection motivation. Social psychology: A source book, 153-176.