Young people's response to death threat appeals: Do they really feel immortal?

Document Type

Journal Article


Faculty of Business and Public Management


School of Marketing, Tourism and Leisure




N. Henley , and R. J. Donovan (2003) Young people's response to death threat appeals: do they really feel immortal? Health Education Research. v. 18, no. 1 pp1-14. Original article available here


Threat appeals are used frequently in health promotion, with threats of (premature) death common in some areas, e.g. "quit smoking or you’ll die". There is a common notion that young people feel they are immortal. Accordingly, we investigated whether young people would respond less to threats of death than to non-death threats and whether younger people would respond less to death threats than older people. This study was conducted with smokers in two age groups (16–25 and 40–50 years). Each respondent was exposed to one message about the threat of emphysema, either a death or non-death message. Younger smokers did not respond more to non-death threats than death threats and expressed a higher level of response to all threats than older smokers. It would appear that death threats are effective with young people and so we conclude that they do not feel immortal. An additional finding was that older females responded significantly more to non-death threats than older males. Death threats may not be effective with older females and a segmentation approach may be advisable when targeting older people using death threats in health promotion campaigns.



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