The Fear Appeal in Prevention: The COVID Case


Session Overview

In this presentation from the 2020 GovComms Festival, our speakers discuss the role of fear in communications, and how appeals to fear were used during the COVID-19 pandemic. When can appeals to fear be useful, and when can they go too far?

In this panel, we have three speakers from French Universities:

  • Marie-Laure Gavard-Perret (Grenoble Alpes University)
  • Marie-Claire Wilhelm (Grenoble Alpes University)
  • Gilles N’Goala (Montpellier University)

The speakers discuss the difficulties in France of convincing people of the seriousness of the pandemic. They use the high number of non-compliance sanctions as evidence of this difficulty.

The speakers claim that the government’s use of fear appeals helped to reduce the rates of non-compliance, although they also discuss the unintended consequences of this approach. They point to the serious and martial tone of the French President Emmanuel Macron as an example of the French Government’s appeals to fear.

They examine the effect of this approach, pointing to studies that showed 8 out of 10 French people felt a moderate to very strong fear for themselves and their loved ones. They also discuss the overall effectiveness of the appeals to fear, concluding that it produced mixed results.

The speakers also discuss the negative impacts of these appeals to fear. The French experienced high rates of anxiety, tension and nervousness during the pandemic.

After watching this video, you will be able to:

  • Understand how the French government used appeals to fear in their response to COVID-19.
  • Know when appeals to fear are and are not appropriate, recognising the positive and negative effects of such appeals.