The Extended Parallel Process Model

Although all theories are helpful in informing SBCC activities, not all are suitable for an emergency setting. In most cases, the extended parallel process model is recommended because it acknowledges the increased risk perception that populations are likely to experience as a result of the emergency.

The extended parallel process model stipulates that, for individuals to take protective action, they must (1) feel threatened by the consequences of a particular behavior and, at the same time, (2) feel able to take the necessary action to avoid that threat and believe that the action will be effective in mitigating the threat.

The degree to which people feel threatened by an issue will determine motivation to act. Action will not occur unless people’s confidence in their ability to take protective measures is high, and they believe that those actions will actually be effective in reducing risk. As illustrated in the table below, the model identifies four outcomes of behavior depending on perceived threat (a combination of perceived susceptibility and perceived severity) and perceived efficacy (a combination of self-efficacy and response efficacy) (Witte, 1998; Popova, 2012).

Matrix of Efficacy and Threat Based on the Extended Parallel Process Model


Belief in effectiveness of solutions and confidence to practice them


Doubts about effectiveness of solutions and one’s ability to practice


Belief that the threat is harmful and that one is at-risk

Danger control

People take protective action to avoid or reduce the threat.

Strategy: Provide calls to action

Fear control

People are too afraid to act and just try to reduce their fear (deny existence of threat) to make themselves feel psychologically better.

Strategy: Educate about solutions


Belief that the threat is trivial and that one is not at-risk

Lesser amount of danger control People know what to do but are not motivated to take action.

Strategy: Educate about risk

No response

People don’t feel at risk and don’t know what to do about it anyway.

Strategy: Educate about risk and about solutions


This model tells us that SBCC activities and messages need to create a balance between perceived threat and perceived efficacy. In emergencies, developing activities that increase both response efficacy and self-efficacy is especially important because perceived threat is already likely to be high – it is critical that people understand what to do to reduce the threat. In particular, this theory tells us that interventions should:

  • Provide clear, accurate, believable, humane and respectful information about risk-reduction behaviors and their effectiveness – without escalating fear and panic – to increase efficacy
  • Provide tools, skills and services that support people’s engagement in risk reduction behaviors, thus increasing efficacy
  • Maintain a certain level of risk perception when emergencies start to subside and people no longer sense the danger even when it still exists

As the emergency evolves from the initial and maintenance phases into resolution and evaluation, other theories can begin to inform activities. In the resolution stage, the focus is likely to be on reinforcing new behaviors that have not been promoted by the emergency response. In the evaluation phase, SBCC can start to address at longer-term, sustainable behavior change to prevent further emergencies. 

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