What do you think of the use of fear as a motivator?

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

From a theoretical point of view, I think fear can be a great motivator.  It's what drives individuals and prevents a sense of stagnation from taking hold.  That being said, I guess I am an individual that has seen it abused too much as a way of motivating people to do their best.  I am particularly concerned with its use on children.  When adults use fear as a motivating factor with children, the results and product might be valid and be worthy of praise, but the psychological long terms damage that has been wrought is something undeniable.  Certainly, one needs to encourage and the use of fear is something that can accomplish this.  Yet, when individuals are demonized with fear as being the sole motivator, they lose focus and no longer can fully understand why action should be taken.  They take action in the name of external consequences as opposed to operating without it and allowing a sense of wholeness to emerge.  The divided consciousness that is wrought with a continual use of fear as a motivator is intensely painful to endure and while I am as much of an advocate for positive results, I would have to accept what I can without "going there."  Too much long term bad can result.  This might come across as weak, but I will live with that.  The pain brought on from living in constant fear is one where individuals are nothing more than a gutted shell, constantly afraid of taking any action.  This paralysis might be worse than secondary or tertiary results.

clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If you are asking, does fear motivate - certainly, I think yes it does.  Unfortunately, there is probably no predicting whether it motivates a more positive or more negative outcome.

I think there is such a think as controlled fear - for example, parents threaten small children with certain consequences for unwanted behaviors.  The child, often in fear of those consequences, does what the parent wants.  This is acceptable use of fear as a motivator.

Another example of an acceptable use of fear as a motivator is presenting reality - even if reality is something to be afraid of.  An example of this would be taking a teenager engaging in risky behavior (let's say innappropriate partying) and presenting the worst possible but realistic end to the behavior.  It is entirlely possible for what starts as "mild" partying to progress into something dangerous - and to show the teenager what his/her behavior could result in is, in my opinion, an okay use of fear as a motivator for change.

On the other hand, there are certainly ways to use fear as a motivator and get a completely opposite result.  Some people react to fear by hiding.  Teachers who use fear in the classroom (or too much sarcasm, as my experience has shown) often have a class full of students afraid to raise their hands and participate.  The fear of failure is one that instead of motivating success often backfires into suppressing effort.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that people who need to resort to fear in order to motivate others usually don't have their best interests at heart, and lack other compelling arguments that would make such motivation justified.  People tend to act foolishly and emotionally when they are afraid, and if you know this, and yet you still want them to act this way, then you have some other motive, that probably has more to do with your self interest than with protecting or helping others.

Politicians do this all the time, telling us to hate or to fear specific groups: conservatives or liberals, Republican or Democrat, Muslims or Jews, immigrants or the poor.  Do they do this to help the public or to protect us?  I don't think so at all.  They do it to divide, to profit or to get re-elected.

Many religions have used the fear of hell very effectively over the centuries, as did Edwards in his Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God sermon.  While he may have been sincere in his religious beliefs, I think when people use fear as a motivator, they do us much more harm than they could possibly do us good.

ladyrossusa | Student

In my opinion, fear is not a very good motivation to do anything good in your life.  If you use fear to get what you want, it seems that you are mostly being a bully, not a motivator.  If I used fear to motivate my school kids, I don't think I would be a very successful teacher.

teacher770 | Student

The use of fear as a motivator is counter-productive.  Extrinsic motivation is never as useful as intrinsic motivation.  If you are interested in the topic of motivation you might want to read the following:  Kohn, A. (1999) Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, As, Praise, and Other Bribes. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Kohn discusses the use of extrinsic motivation in the school and in the workplace, explains why this type of motivation is not to the benefit of the employer or teacher, why intrinsic motivation is desireable, and presents ideas to implement plans for tapping the intrinsic motivation that exists in all people. 

Remember, there are NO silver bullets of motivation that work for every person in every situation.  Case by case is the manner in which motivational issues must be examined.

sunshine26duh | Student

well if you have a fear of something dont you think you want to attempt something involving that fear to overcome it? thats how  i see a fear as a motivator.