Appeal To Fear, Scare Tactics

Appeals to fear
seeks to build support by instilling fear in the general population - for example Joseph Goebbels exploited Theodore Kaufman's Germany Must Perish! to claim that the Allies sought the extermination of the German people.

Argument From Adverse Consequences (Appeal To Fear, Scare Tactics): saying an opponent must be wrong, because if he is right, then bad things would ensue.

For example: God must exist, because a godless society would be lawless and dangerous. Or: the defendant in a murder trial must be found guilty, because otherwise husbands will be encouraged to murder their wives.

Wishful thinking is closely related. "My home in Florida is six inches above sea level. Therefore I am certain that global warming will not make the oceans rise by one foot."

Of course, wishful thinking can also be about positive consequences, such as winning the lottery, or eliminating poverty and crime.


When confronted with persuasive messages that capitalize on our fear, we should ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Is the speaker exaggerating the fear or threat in order to obtain my support?
  • How legitimate is the fear that the speaker is provoking? 
  • Will performing the recommended action actually reduce the supposed threat?
  • When viewed dispassionately, what are the merits of the speaker's proposal? 


  • Efforts to portray children as vulnerable to "stranger abduction" when, in reality it is almost always the case in child abduction or abuse cases that a family member or someone closely known by the child is the perpetrator.
  • "Rural kids have traditionally been given the freedom to roam miles.  High-profile cases like the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, however, are making a lot more parents reluctant to let their children out of their sight.  Is it a case of taking sensible precautions or are we unnecessarily curtailing their freedoms and denying kids an important part of a country childhood?" 6 July 2007, Farmers Weekly 
  • MSPs using Maddie's case to reinforce their efforts to create European Amber Alert system.
  • Cinema ad for Madeleine that was running prior to family films (pulled after a successful campaign by Mumsnet due to the fact that it was needlessly scaring children.)

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