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close this bookPrevention of Drug Abuse through Education and Information: An Interdiscplinary Responsibility Within the Context of Human Development (EC - UNESCO, 1994, 26 p.)
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View the documentFear as a tool of dissuasion
View the documentAffective education

Fear as a tool of dissuasion

There is some controversy about using fear as a tool of disuasion. If it is clear that fear should ensue from the genuine negative consequences of drug abuse, it should not, however, be only a by-product of society's imagination reflecting other social concerns Many programmes for the prevention of alcoholism and drug abuse, as well as much informal information transmitted by adults on this subject, are, however, based on fear. In an experimental study, Fritzen and Mazer compare one group of pupils having been confronted with particularly frightening messages about alcohol with another group exposed to more moderate messages. There was evidence of increased fear in the first group immediately afterwards, but only amongst those pupils who were already more frightened than their peers. The authors observe no difference in attitude as regards the consumption of alcohol, either between the two groups, or between the more frightened and the less frightened pupils. A study carried out at the request of the " Haut Comit'Etudes et d'Informations sur l'Alcoolisme " in Paris (1976) draws, inter alia, the following conclusions:

"1" Traumatic " messages accompanied by frightening images are more effective than " non-traumatic " messages in the respect that they provoke more coherent, resistant attitudes, more often followed by action being taken. But, it must not be concluded that " non-traumatic " messages have no effect at all.

2. A certain time lapse can be seen between the development of opinions and that of behaviour. In fact, three months after the diffusion of a message, attitudes and awareness tend to revert to where they started from, most probably because they have been subjected to the influence of the environment and influenced yet again by traditional preconceived opinions regarding alcohol ".

A study by the London Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence compares the effects produced by different forms of lesson, i.e. a lesson on drugs taught in the same way as any other lesson by a teacher; a medical film on bad trips; a biographical " shock " film about a drug addict who dies at the end; and a film on pharmacological aspects of drugs. The study shows that, in the short term, the effects on groups of pupils differed according to the material used. The greatest immediate effect was provoked by the projection of the shock film, pupils affirming their intention never to take drugs. During a test carried out two months later it was, however, observed that most differences between the groups had vanished. To all intents and purposes, messages based on fear only lead to short-term attitudinal change. In a basic study, Smart and Feyer made a pertinent observation in this respect: the effect of fear techniques will depend upon how much is known about the drug in question; the better known the drug, the less influence fear techniques will have on the intention to take the drug.

In their classical studies, Jannis and McGuire, using different arguments, have attempted to demonstrate that there is no linear relationship between fear and understanding a message, but that this relationship can be represented by an inverted U-bend. Consulting literature on this subject, Sutton later notes, however, that empirical research does not bring to light any clear-cut non-linear relationship between fear and understanding a message; increased fear is consistently associated with increased understanding of the message. In their general study, Sternhal and Craig also drew the conclusion that fear tactics are efficient, but only insofar as they are accompanied by concrete behavioral guidelines deemed effective by the receivers, (cad also Farquhar et. al) and where the transmitter is judged to be totally credible.

In conclusion, over and above the transmission of the message, it is upon the credibility and the quality of the relationship existing between transmitter and receiver that the success of this prevention strategy will depend, it being understood that the prevention of drug abuse implies, of necessity, the use of mechanisms of dissuasion based on fear as a normal element of human adaptation and evolution. However, if fear is used as a mechanism of disuasion, then the information must be honest and reflect reality. In other words, fear should be used to present the incontrovertible consequences of drug abuse and certainly not to manipulate the receiver of the message.