Prior to high-stakes exams, teachers use persuasive messages that highlight to students the possible consequences of failure. Such messages are known as fear appeals. This study examined whether fear appeals relate to self- and non-self-determined motivation and academic performance. Data were collected in 3 waves. Self-report data pertaining to perceived fear appeals were collected in the first wave, self-report data pertaining to self-determined motivation were collected in the second wave, and exam scores were collected in the third wave. An increased frequency of fear appeals and the appraisal of fear appeals as threatening predicted lower self-determined motivation but were largely unrelated to non-self-determined motivation. An increased frequency of fear appeals and the appraisal of fear appeals as threatening predicted lower examination performance that was partly mediated by lower self-determined motivation. These findings support a position derived from self-worth theory that the negative consequences of fear appeals arise from their focus on avoiding failure rather than their focus on extrinsic consequences. We suggest that teachers and instructors need to be aware how seemingly motivational statements can unwittingly promote lower self-determined motivation.
Putwain, D., & Remedios, R. (2014). The scare tactic: Messages which contain fear appeals prior to a high-stakes test predict lower self-determined motivation and exam scores. School Psychology Quarterly, 29(4), 503-516. https://doi.org/10.1037/spq0000048