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Taking Threats to the Lab: Introducing an Experimental Paradigm for Studying Verbal Threats

Journal article
Authors Renate Geurts
Pär-Anders Granhag
Karl Ask
Aldert Vrij
Published in Journal of Threat Assessment and Management
Volume 3
Issue 1
Pages 53-64
ISSN 2169-4842
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Psychology
Pages 53-64
Language en
Keywords threat assessment, true and false intent, construal level theory, investigative interviewing
Subject categories Applied Psychology


People who threaten to cause harm may 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 paper we present what is, to our knowledge, the first study in which verbal threats are examined experimentally. We theorize 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 poses a threat). In a mock-paradigm, participants (N = 181) were instructed to threaten 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 ‘how’ details they provided. In contrast to our prediction, bluffers provided comparatively more details on implementation. Possible explanations for this result are discussed.

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