Information Seeking and Risk Reduction Intentions in Response to Environmental Threat Messages: The Role of Message Processing

Elisabeth Bigsby, Shelly R. Hovick, Naomi Q.P. Tan, Sarah N. Thomas, Sam R. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Communicating complex information about environmental health risks in a single message is impossible. Thus, message designers hope that risk messages encourage people to think more about the message and risks, look for more information, and ultimately make behavior changes. The presentation of information about environmental risks using threat appeals is a common message design strategy thought to increase message engagement and influence attitudes, information seeking, and risk reduction behaviors. We compared lower threat messages, which did not include explicit statements about susceptibility and severity of a risk, to higher threat messages, which did. We combined predictions from the extended parallel process model with dual-process theories of persuasion to examine whether people respond to these types of messages differently. In an online experiment, participants (N = 892) were randomly assigned to a message condition (higher or lower threat) and topic condition (arsenic, bisphenol A, or volatile organic compounds). Overall, participants exposed to higher threat messages (regardless of risk topic) reported experiencing higher levels of fear. Higher levels of fear were associated with more positive thoughts about the message (in alignment with the message advocacy) and fewer negative thoughts about the message (against the message advocacy), both of which influenced message attitudes. Finally, message attitudes were associated with increased information seeking and intentions to engage in risk reduction behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2160-2175
Number of pages16
JournalRisk Analysis
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2022


  • Environmental health risks
  • fear appeals
  • information seeking
  • risk communication
  • threat appeals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Physiology (medical)


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