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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: February 24, 2007
Latest Update: February 24, 2007

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Index of Topics on Site Fear Studies and Persuasion in Social Psychology

Nickles, at UWP, reported an interesting story on fear in Message No. on Transform_dom:

"This weekend I was going through some training for an internship I am doing and one of the activities for the trainees to get to know each other was to split into groups and come up with things we had in common with each other. One of the things I mentioned was that we all watched the news. I was surprised to learn that almost half of our group did not watch the news, not because they didn't have time to watch it, but because they stated that the news made them afraid. For instnace, one of the girls in our group stated she didn't watch the news after one station did a feature on night predators because she works third shift and when she'd be out late at night she was always looking over her shoulder. Just thought it was an interesting encounter."

It certainly was an interesting encounter. The field of social psychology has investigated the effects of fear on our willingness to accept and act on messages that are presented to us. Some of the original experiments dealt with tooth decay. In the forties and fifties (yeah, fifty years ago), schools worked hard at teaching children the importance of brushing their teeth. There was much less propaganda for flossing in those days. Social psychological studies found that showing really horrible scenes of tooth decay frightened people like the young woman above, so that they ignored the whole message. Fear of decay is a good motivator to brush and floss, but not if it scares you so badly that you reject the whole message.

I would be delighted if some of you could put together a box/card that would offer some effective means of ways to avoid victimization for the young woman who was frightened by the evening news. Along with warnings to remain aware, and to carry some sort of sound emitter that will attract attention, what are other things we might suggest to her that would keep her safe when she has to walk or drive home late at night? How could we manage to convey such suggestions to the many young women who find themselves in such situations? How could our art objects help? Can we make them attractive enough that the young women will keep them where the cards or objects will remind them to be careful, and what steps to take to protect themselves? How could community policing help? How could the schools help? How could we enlist the help of community organizations and institutions?

Discussion Questions

  1. What would fear studies say about the "Scared Straight program in which convicts talk to young people about how you could end up in jail?

    Consider that corrections staffs are trying to scare the kids into staying straight and that local gangs or toughs are trying to scare them into the need to "belong" with their peers. If both sides are offering fear as persuasion, where does that leave the kids?

  2. Why have the media not already instituted measures to inform people on ways to effectively deal with the fears their warnings engender?

    Consider that we're used to SELLING solutions to problems, not giving them away. Look at the number of organizations now willing to take money to teach your child. Before the Federal government mandated tutoring for those who are failing (and not nearly enough to make our educational institutions successful, but enough that some who are savvy have been able to take advantage of it) those programs weren't around, because people weren't used to paying for it, and in lots of cases, couldn't afford it. Now that some money is available, and the schools are required by law to pay it, such programs abound. If they can SELL their service, the providers appear; but if they are asked to provide such service to their students, the government doesn't pay for smaller classes, and the schools don't offer the very same techniques and tutoring that they could offer free with adequate funding for class size and teacher training.

    There's an interesting study cited in References below in which students discovered that those who are most fearful in our culture, are those who have less education, and women, who have never been adequately taught to fight back and protect themselves. Maybe some of you could research ways in which women could learn self-protection in your local area, and create a card/box reminder we could share with them, reminding them of options they really have. Maybe community policing would be willing to help with this. Partnering? Why not?


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