Whenever we craft a message we need to have a clear idea of how we are going to evaluate the efficacy after releasing the message. The Extended Parallel Process Model (EPPM) provides a useful model exactly for that.
Let first us see what it is and then how it helps us.
We need to keep in mind that this model particularly applies to fear- arousing messages.
What is EPPM?
The EPPM forces us to look at it from the message recipient’s point of view. According to the model, the message recipients process a message in two stages. In the first stage, the message recipients appraise the threat level; then they proceed into stage two: To take action. They choose one of two types of action. Those are danger control (appropriate/adaptive) and fear control (inappropriate/maladaptive).
Stage 1: Appraising the threat
First, as soon as we receive a fear-arousing message, we appraise its “perceived” threat level. Here the keyword is “perceived”. What matters most is the message recipient’s perceived threat level, not the message sender’s perceived threat level. Often, message senders who tend to be more knowledgeable than the message recipients become disappointed because the message senders think the recipients do not perceive to the level that the senders perceive. Being at a higher position in the social ladder, message framers put the blame on the message recipients.
What does the “perceived threat” refer to?
Although we employ here the fear appeal as the strategy, according to Kim Witte the threat differs from fear;
According to the, two criteria should fulfill to perceived the threat; the message recipients should perceive severity and susceptibility.
What does it mean by perceived severity?
Think of COVID 19 virus. First, the recipients assess how severe the problem is. In the first wave, our perceived severity became very much higher than now. Isn’t it? In other words, the perceived severity can vary with time.
What does it mean by perceived susceptibility?
Next, the recipients assess how much they are vulnerable in contracting the COVID 19 virus.
If the recipients perceive the problem is not severe enough and they are not vulnerable, they are very unlikely to do something about it. In contrast, if they perceive the problem is severe enough and they are susceptible, they feel they are under threat and think of doing something about it.
According to the EPPM, they switch into the next stage: Action. Here, the message recipients evaluate the actions they can resort to: Appraising the efficacy of the proposed action/s.
Stage 2: Appraising the efficacy
In this stage, they evaluate two dimensions of the proposed action/s.
First, they evaluate whether the proposed action is doable. For example, in regards to COVID 19 pandemic response, the key messages we receive are “stay at home”, “wear a face mask”, “wash hands”, and “keep the distance”.
Perceived response efficacy
This is the final element; perceived response efficacy. Here, the recipients evaluate whether the proposed actions do really work for them.
Our message satisfies all the above-mentioned four criteria, according to the EPPM, the message recipients are highly likely to engage in the recommended behavior change. Obviously, we cannot expect one message can satisfy all these criteria for all the people. That is why we first have to define the target audience and study their socio-demographic and psychographic characteristics before crafting the message.
Danger control versus fear control
Whenever our message meets the four perceptions of the target audience, they delve into “danger control”. This is what we want them to do. The experts view this as a cognitive process.
However, there are many situations that our messages do not meet all the above criteria.
What will happen if some members of the target audience perceive a higher threat level with a lower level of perception that they are not capable of engaging in the suggested action?
According to Michael Basil and Kim Witte, in such situations message recipients will resort to “fear control” methods; this is an emotion control process. Here, they will ignore the message and somehow find reasons to justify their course of inaction.
What arguments they are likely to put forward? According to Michael Basil and Kim Witte, those are;
- They may the risk is overstated unnecessarily.
- They may the threat is not that severe.
- They may, Whatever happens, may happen; we cannot do anything; this is life.
- They may this is a deliberate attempt to limit their freedom.
What we have to do in message framing is to promote message recipients to adopt danger control actions not fear control ones.
EPPM elements against control strategies
This is only an introduction to the EPPM. There is much more to it. And, researchers have addressed the limitations of the model too. For example, this model only deals with the process of dealing with fear. However, fear is not the only emotion messages invoke. They can invoke anger and frustration too.
Researchers firmly advocate the self-efficacy and response efficacy perception levels should be higher than the problem severity and susceptibility perception levels for the message recipients to resort to danger control behaviors. If the reverse takes effect, they will resort to maladaptive fear control behaviors.
I will discuss its applications in another post.