Health Communication

Protection Motivation Theory

influencing and predicting behavior

History and Orientation

Protection Motivation Theory (PMT) was originally (Rogers, 1975) proposed to provide conceptual clarity to the understanding of fear appeals. A later revision of Protection Motivation Theory (Rogers, 1983) extended the theory to a more general theory of persuasive communication, with an emphasis on the cognitive processes mediating behavioral change.

Core Assumptions and Statements

Protection Motivation Theory (Rogers, 1983) is partially based on the work of Lazarus (1966) and Leventhal (1970) and describes adaptive and maladaptive coping with a health threat as a result of two appraisal processes. A process of threat appraisal and a process of coping appraisal, in which the behavioral options to diminish the threat are evaluated (Boer, Seydel, 1996). The appraisal of the health threat and the appraisal of the coping responses result in the intention to perform adaptive responses (protection motivation) or may lead to maladaptive responses. Maladaptive responses are those that place an individual at health risk. They include behaviors that lead to negative consequences (e.g. smoking) and the absence of behaviors, which eventually may lead to negative consequences (e.g. not participating in breast cancer screening and thus missing the opportunity of early detection of a tumor).

The Protection Motivation Theory proposes that the intention to protect one self depends upon four factors:

  1. The perceived severity of a threatened event (e.g., a heart attack)
  2. The perceived probability of the occurrence, or vulnerability (in this example, the perceived vulnerability of the individual to a hear attack)
  3. The efficacy of the recommended preventive behavior (the perceived response efficacy)
  4. The perceived self-efficacy (i.e., the level of confidence in one’s ability to undertake the recommended preventive behavior).

Protection motivation is the result of the threat appraisal and the coping appraisal. Threat appraisal is the estimation of the chance of contracting a disease (vulnerability) and estimates of the seriousness of a disease (severity). Coping appraisal consists of response efficacy and self-efficacy. Response efficacy is the individual’s expectancy that carrying out recommendations can remove the threat. Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s ability to execute the recommend courses of action successfully. Protection motivation is a mediating variable whose function is to arouse, sustain and direct protective health behavior (Boer, Seydel, 1996).

Conceptual Model

Source: Rogers, 1983)

Favorite Methods

Surveys, experiments.

Scope and Application

The Protection Motivation Theory can be used for influencing and predicting various behaviors. Off course, the PMT can be used in health-related behaviors. The main features of application to date are reducing alcohol use, enhancing healthy lifestyles, enhancing diagnostic health behaviors and preventing disease. This site gives a good overview of topics studied in PMT Literature.


With the PMT Stainback and Rogers (1983) tried to investigate how alcohol use can be reduced. They used persuasive messages to describe the unpleasant consequences of abusive drinking to junior high school students. They used two groups, where the high-fear group received messages describing severe consequences and a high probability of occurrence. The low-fear group received messages describing no severe consequences and a low probability of occurrence Results of this study were that the high-fear group rated the severity of the consequences and drinking likelihood of experiencing these consequences as greater than the low-fear group. Immediately after exposure to the information the high-fear condition produced stronger intentions to remain abstinent than the lower-fear condition.

Source: Boer, Seydel (1996) in Conner and Norman. Predicting Health Behavior, p 99-100.


Key publications

  • Boer, H., & Seydel, E.R. (1996). Protection motivation theory. In M. Connor and P. Norman (Eds.) Predicting Health Behavior. Buckingham: Open University Press.
  • Rogers, R.W. (1983). Cognitive and physiological processes in fear appeals and attitude change: A revised theory of protection motivation. In J. Cacioppo & R. Petty (Eds.), Social Psychophysiology. New York: Guilford Press.
  • van der Velde, F.W. & van der Plight, J. (1991). AIDS-related health behavior: Coping, protection, motivation, and previous behavior. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 14, 429-451.
  • Godin, G. (1994). Social-cognitive theories. In R. K. Dishman (Ed.), Advances in
    Exercise Adherence
    (pp.113-136). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  • Maddux, J.E., & Rogers, R. W. (1983). Protection motivation theory and self-efficacy:
    A revised theory of fear appeals and attitude change. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 19, 469-479.
  • Rogers, R. W. (1975). A protection motivation theory of fear appeals and attitude change. Journal of Psychology, 91, 93-114.
  • Hartgers, C., Krijnen, P. & Pligt, J. van der. HIV and injecting drug users: the role of protection motivation.
  • Stainback, R.D. & Rogers, R.W. (1983). Identifying effective components of alcohol abuse prevention programs: effects of fear appeals, message style and source expertise, International Journal of Addictions, 18, 393-405.
  • Lazarus, R.S. (1966). Psychological Stress and the Coping Process. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Leventhal, H. (1970). Findings and theory in the study of fear communications. In L. Berkowitz (ed.) Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 5. New York: Academic Press, 119-86.
  • Pechmann, C., Zhao, G., Goldberg, M.E & Reibling, E.T. (April 1993). What to Convey in Antismoking Advertisements for Adolescents: The Use of Protection Motivation Theory to Identify Effective Message Themes. Journal of Marketing, 67, 1-18. Online at: http//

See also: Health Belief Model, Theory of Planned Behavior/ Reasoned Action
See Health Communication