Fear appeals in HIV-prevention messages: young people’s perceptions in northern Tanzania

  • Sheri Bastien


The aims of the study were to elicit the perceptions of young people in Tanzania on the role of fear appeals in HIV-prevention messages and to identify important contextual factors that may influence young people’s perceptions of HIV-prevention posters. A total of 10 focus groups were conducted to investigate the  role of fear appeals using the extended parallel process model (EPPM) as a  guide. Young people were shown a series of images (mostly posters) with alternating high- and low-threat messages (fear appeals), and then asked questions about their overall beliefs about HIV and AIDS, as well as about their  response in terms of perceived susceptibility to HIV infection, the severity of the message, and their perceptions of self-efficacy and response efficacy. The images and messages that specifically targeted young people were highest in  inducing perceived susceptibility to HIV infection, while pictorial descriptions of the physical consequences of HIV infection and those messages related to the stigma and discrimination faced by HIV-infected or affected people induced greater perceptions of severity. The information-based posters rated high in  inducing response efficacy, while none of the images seemed to convince young people that they had the self-efficacy to perform the recommended health  behaviours. The young people expressed a preference for fear-based appeals and a belief that this could work well in HIV-prevention efforts, yet they also stated a desire for more information-based messages about how to protect themselves. Finally, the messages evoking the most emotional responses were those that had been locally conceived rather than ones developed by large-scale donor-funded campaigns. Finding the appropriate balance between fear and efficacy in HIV-prevention messages is imperative. Further research is needed to better understand how and when fear appeals work and do not work in African settings,  especially among young people.

African Journal of AIDS Research 2011, 10(4): 435–449

Author Biography

Sheri Bastien
University of Oslo, Faculty of Medicine, Institute for Basic Medical Sciences, POB 1046, Blindern, Oslo 0317, Norway

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1608-5906
print ISSN: 1727-9445