Coping With Fear Through Suppression and Avoidance of Threatening Information

Jesper Nielsen, Stewart Shapiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Fear appeal communications are widely used by social marketers in their efforts to persuade individuals to refrain from engaging in risky behaviors. The present research shows that exposure to a fear appeal can lead to the suppression of concepts semantically related to the threat and bias attentional resources away from threat-relevant information. Participants in the experimental condition viewed a fear appeal advertisement depicting the negative consequences of drinking and driving. The results of a reaction time task showed inhibited responses to words semantically related to drinking (e.g., beer, party) relative to a baseline group that controlled for priming effects (Experiment 1a) and level of fear (Experiment 1b). Furthermore, those in the experimental condition were shown to adopt an attention avoidance processing style, decreasing attention to alcohol-related advertisements appearing in a mock magazine (Experiments 2a and 2b). Because processing of alcohol-related advertising has been linked previously to an increase in drinking and driving, inhibited processing of such advertisements suggests a positive outcome of suppression effects. This contrasts with prior claims suggesting that suppression is counter to prevention-based efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)258-274
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Applied
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2009


  • attention avoidance
  • fear appeal
  • suppression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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