Could That Happen to Me?: Individual Differences in Perceptions of Threat and Intentions to Take Protective Action


  • This research was supported by a grant to the first author from the National Science Foundation (No. 0620602). Correspondence should be directed to Suzanne C. Thompson, Department of Psychology, Pomona College, Claremont, CA 91711, USA.

Suzanne Thompson, PhD, 647 N. College Way, Department of Psychology, Pomona College, Claremont, CA 91711, USA. Email:, FAX: (909) 621-8623


Individual differences in threat in reactions to personal threat were examined using four health or theft threats. Probability and severity of the threats were manipulated. Participants (n = 94) completed measures of threat orientations, read each message, and rated perceived risk, concern, as well as current and intended protective behavior. As expected, consistency in reactions to threat was found across the four threats and in predicted patterns with dispositional threat orientations. Furthermore, threat orientations predicted perceived risk independent of probability and severity, and each threat orientation showed a different pattern of concern about the threats, based on current protection. Two ways to apply these findings to the communication of threat information are considered.