THE IMPACT OF DISGUST ON THREAT APPEALS: ENHANCEMENT OR ATTENUATION OF PERSUASION?

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Author:
Yang, Chun
Graduate Program:
Mass Communications
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
August 17, 2017
Committee Members:
  • Mary Beth Oliver, Dissertation Advisor
  • Mary Beth Oliver, Committee Chair
  • Fuyuan Shen, Committee Member
  • S. Shyam Sundar, Committee Member
  • James Dillard, Outside Member
Keywords:
  • Threat appeal
  • Disgust
  • Fear
  • Persuasion
Abstract:
Threatening messages designed to influence individuals’ attitudes and behaviors often arouse disgust as well as fear. Although the impact of fear has been examined by researchers over the past several decades, it’s unclear whether the co-activation of disgust and fear would enhance or impair persuasion. This study examined this question through an online experiment with a 2 (disgust vs. no-disgust) × 2 (relevant vs. irrelevant) plus control between subject design. Participants (N = 306) were randomly assigned to read one of the five threatening messages about human papillomavirus (HPV) and reported their emotional reactions, attitudes and behavioral intentions regarding the issue. The extent to which they memorize the message content was also assessed. Results showed that self-reported disgust interacted with fear and they jointly impacted message retention. Specifically, when significant amount of disgust was activated, increase in fear resulted in worse memory of the message. On the contrary, if individuals did not experience much disgust, they tended to memory the message better. Also, the data revealed a consistent pattern that self-reported disgust impaired persuasion through reactance. When disgust was experienced during and after exposure to the threatening message, reactance was activated, which in turn resulted in resistance to attitude and behavior change.