Can judgments of threat reflect an approaching person's trait aggression?

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When in a vulnerable situation (such as walking alone at night), an approaching person may be seen as ‘threatening’. Here, we are interested in how well participants’ judgments of threat reflected the trait aggression of approaching target people. We use two similar experiments to demonstrate and replicate the relationship between judgments of threat and target aggression.
In both studies participants judged how threatening they found 22 approaching people (presented in videos). In Study One, participants judged the targets whilst sitting at a computer. In Experiment 2, participants were standing and were either oriented facing the videos, or oriented away from the videos so they had to look over their shoulder. This was to emulate a potentially threatening person approaching from behind. Across both studies, there was strong evidence that the average judgments of the threat posed by the approaching targets accurately reflected the targets’ trait aggression. It was also found that there was noteworthy variability in individual participants’ ability to detect aggression, with a few participants even having an inverse relationship between threat and the target’s aggression. This research demonstrates that judgments of how ‘threatening’ a person is can be used to accurately index trait aggression at a distance.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCurrent Psychology
Early online date7 Jan 2017
Publication statusEarly online - 7 Jan 2017


  • threat perception
  • gait behaviour
  • trait aggression


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