Fear appeals prior to a high-stakes examination can have a positive or negative impact on engagement depending on how the message is appraised

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Previous studies have shown that teachers may use messages that focus on the importance of avoiding failure (fear appeals) prior to high-stakes examinations as a motivational tactic. The aim of this study was to examine whether fear appeals, and their appraisal as challenging or threatening, impacted on student engagement. Data were collected from 1373 students, clustered in 46 classes, and 81 teachers responsible for instruction in those classes, prior to a high-stakes mathematics secondary school exit examination. Data were analyzed in a multilevel structural equation model. The appraisal of fear appeals as challenging leads to greater student engagement and as threatening to lower student engagement. The impact of fear appeals on engagement was mediated by challenge and threat appraisals. The effectiveness of fear appeals as a motivational strategy depends on how they are interpreted by students.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-31
Number of pages11
JournalContemporary Educational Psychology
Early online date22 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2016



  • Behavioral engagement
  • Challenge
  • Emotional engagement
  • Engagement
  • Fear appeals
  • Threat

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