Examining the impact of efficacy and threat-based messaging on emergency preparedness
Ross, Laura Just
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Effective emergency response relies upon the public’s preparedness for potential threats. The emergency preparedness literature suggests that individuals with previous experience in an emergency have higher threat perceptions and are more likely to be prepared. This experience-preparedness link indicates that threat-based messages could be useful in encouraging emergency preparedness in some situations; however, questions remain about the value and predictability of fear appeals. The extended parallel process model (EPPM) explains the variability in responses to fear appeals by relating it to efficacy. Once some type of threat piques an individual’s interest, they then conduct an efficacy assessment. If perceived efficacy is greater than threat, the person will engage in danger controlling responses and be more likely to follow recommended behaviors to reduce their threat. In contrast, if the threat is stronger than perceived efficacy, the person is more likely engage in fear controlling strategies such as avoidance or denial. Based on the EPPM, the research described herein proposed that people with previous experience in a disaster would be more likely to be in a fear-controlling mode due to their higher perceived threat and therefore would be more susceptible to efficacy-based messages. People without previous experience would likely have lower threat levels and would be more susceptible to fear-based messages that would prompt a subsequent efficacy assessment. To test this, participants answered questions to determine their baseline levels of threat and efficacy before they reviewed fact sheets on emergency preparedness specially designed to manipulate the two constructs. Participants reviewed both fact sheets and then selected the one that would be more likely to encourage them to prepare. Chi-square tests allowed for comparison of fact sheet preferences with indicators for perceived threat and efficacy and found limited support for the hypotheses. This paper describes the interpretation of these results in terms of designing emergency preparedness campaigns.