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Fear-Then-Relief (FTR)


Techniques General Persuasion > Sequential Requests > Fear-Then-Relief (FTR)

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



Invoke fear in the other person. Then, when they seek a solution, provide one that leads them in the direction you choose.

Fear is invoked by threatening needs. Relief may be gained by doing what you request. Relief may also given 'freely' to create trust and invoke the rules of social exchange.

Be careful not to be seen as an aggressor, for example by using external sources to invoke the fear.

Also be careful not to invoke so much fear that they flee from you or become aggressive. 


Your performance has been below standard recently and you may be placed on the 'at risk' register. I won't do this now but I do want you to show me what you are capable of.

The boss came around when you were out and asked where you were. Don't worry, I gave a good excuse. Could you cover for me? I want to go home early.


This is a direct application of the hurt and rescue principle, creating discomfort and then providing the means of reducing that discomfort. Whilst a relatively crude method, it is still quite common and often effective when done well.

This works as the pleasant relief is linked with the second request, which receives the pleasant emotion by association. In the state of blessed relief the person may also be temporarily unthinking as the strong emotion overwhelms any rational consideration.

Repeated fear-relief cycles can be emotionally very exhausting and is used in such as interrogation and conversion to break a person down. When a person thinks they are rescued from a fearful situation, they relax and drop their guard, making the next wave even more terrifying as they are less and less able to  emotional defend against it.

Invoking fear can be hazardous as it may well trigger the Fight-or-Flight reaction. Particularly when the persuader is seen as the primary cause of the discomfort, they may become the target of aggression and compliance will become very unlikely. One way this can be handled is that the persuader pleads innocence or unintentional action, which leader the aggressor into apology and compliance as a way of restoring social harmony.

See also

Hurt and Rescue principle, Fight-or-Flight reaction, Threat Forecast, Coping Mechanisms, 'Save me' Game


Dolinski D. and Nawrat R. (1998). Fear-then-relief procedure for producing compliance : Beware when the danger is over. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 34, 1, 27-50.

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