Taking threats to the lab: Introducing an experimental paradigm for studying verbal threats.

Renate Geurts, Pär Anders Granhag, Karl Ask, Aldert Vrij

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People who threaten to cause harm may either actualize their threat or bluff. To manage the risk that harmful acts will be perpetrated, it is of great importance to recognize differences between threatening behavior that will and will not be actualized. In this article we present what is, to our knowledge, the first study in which verbal threats are examined experimentally. We theorized that threats reflecting actual intentions come with implementation details (how one will actualize the threat), whereas bluffs linger in the formation of ideas (reasons why one makes a threat). In a mock-paradigm, participants (N = 181) threatened a company over the phone and were questioned about their threat during the call. Participants were either instructed not to actualize the threat (bluffers), to actualize it only if the company would not meet their demands (conditional actualizers) or to always actualize the threat (decisive actualizers). It was found that bluffers and actualizers differed in the amount of implementation details they provided. In contrast to our prediction, bluffers provided comparatively more details on implementation. Possible explanations for this result are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-64
JournalJournal of Threat Assessment and Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016


  • threat assessment
  • true and false intent
  • construal level theory
  • investigative interviewing


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