Integrating construal level theory in the design of fear appeals in IS security research

Davide C. Orazi, Merrill Warkentin, Allen C. Johnston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Organizations increasingly use fear appeals to motivate users to engage in behaviors that protect information security. Though academic interest in the topic has burgeoned, prior research has mainly focused on providing process evidence on how low- and high-threat security messages influence protective behaviors. According to protection motivation theory, however, the threat-appraisal phase, in which the receiver evaluates whether a fear appeal is threatening or not, follows exposure to the fear appeal. One can indeed design fear appeals to manipulate different dimensions, including the threat depicted and the coping response provided. These dimensions, in turn, influence protection motivation. The general focus on low- and high-threat messages runs the risks of 1) foregoing key theoretical insights that can stem from specific message manipulations and 2) inadvertently introducing message confounds. To address this issue, we introduce construal-level theory as the theoretical lens to design and identify potential confounds in fear-appeal manipulations. We further discuss how researchers can seamlessly integrate construal-level theory into information security studies based on protection motivation theory. Our work has important theoretical and methodological implications for IS security researchers.
Original languageEnglish
Article number22
Pages (from-to)397-410
Number of pages14
JournalCommunications of the Association for Information Systems
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Information Security
  • Fear Appeals
  • Protection Motivation theory
  • Construal-level Theory
  • Manipulation confounds

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