Exemplars are capable of influencing perceptions of reality in newspaper contexts. Can exemplars in fund-raising letters also influence the responsibility stereotype of the group funds are raised for and the effectiveness of these letters? In three experiments, 679 participants received a fund-raising letter containing an exemplar that was or was not held responsible for the trouble he or she was in. In all experiments, the responsibility perception of the group as a whole was influenced by the exemplar manipulation. If the group members were held responsible for the trouble they were in, participants were less inclined to donate money unless the trouble was considered very severe. The study shows how exemplars influence responsibility stereotypes and the persuasiveness of fund-raising letters.

Key Words: exemplars • fund-raising • persuasion • responsibility stereotypes
Fear appeals are frequently used in health communication to persuade people to adopt a new type of behavior (e.g., practicing safe sex) because their current behavior (e.g., having unsafe sex) is likely to result in harmful consequences. A fear appeal’s persuasiveness depends on the extent to which the consequences are perceived as undesirable and realistic and on the extent to which the proposed alternative behavior is considered effective and feasible. In an experiment, the perceived threat and self-efficacy were manipulated by means of an exemplar in which a person either succeeded in performing the propagated behavior (and, consequently, did not suffer the harmful consequences) or in which the person did not succeed in performing the propagated behavior (and, consequently, did suffer the harmful consequences). A total of 149 participants read one of the versions and indicated their intention to perform the propagated behavior, their perception of its feasibility, and their inclination to minimize the message. The results showed that the version in which the person succeeded in performing the behavior yielded a more positive self-efficacy perception and stronger acceptance of the message claim. The version in which the person failed to perform the behavior yielded a more negative self-efficacy perception and more negative intention to perform the behavior propagated. Further statistical analysis showed that the effects on intention were mediated by the message minimization.

Key Words: health communication • fear appeal • exemplars • extended parallel processing model

Exemplars are short stories of one or two paragraphs in which the experiences of an individual are vividly depicted. Exemplars are used to present a personal face to groups or a vivid picture of trends in society. They are used frequently in journalism but also in persuasive communication such as fundraising or health communication. Although exemplars are illustrations, they exert considerable persuasive power because of the public’s tendency to regard these exemplars as representative for the group or trend depicted. Within this line of research, the impact of exemplars and the way in which they bring these effects about are studied.

Selected publications:

Hoeken, H., & Hustinx, L. (2007). The impact of exemplars on responsibility stereotypes in fund-raising letters. Communication Research, 34 (6), 596-617.

Hoeken, H. & Geurts, D. (2005). The influence of exemplars in fear appeals on the perception of self-efficacy and message acceptance. Information Design Journal + Document Design, 13, 240-250.

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