Is threat in the way they move? Influences of static and gait information on threat judgments of unknown people

Abstract

Recognising intraspecies threat is essential for survival. However, this needs to be balanced against the undue avoidance of unknown others who may be useful to us. Research has shown that judgments of ‘aggression’ and ‘threat’ posed by an unknown person can accurately reflect that person’s general aggressive tendencies. To date, there has not been a within-sample comparison of the informativeness of static and walking stimuli for threat judgments. In this study, 193 participants rated the threat posed by 23 target people presented as both simplified gait presentations (point-light walkers) and still images. We analysed how threat judgments made by participants were predicted by the target’s self-reported aggression (accuracy), the sex of the targets and the medium of target presentation (point-light vs. still image). Our results showed that participants’ threat judgments accurately predicted targets’ aggression. Male targets received higher threat ratings than female targets and point-light displays were rated as more threatening than still images. There were no effects of target sex and presentation medium on accuracy of threat perception and no sex by medium interactions on judgments themselves. Overall, this study provides further evidence of the accuracy of threat judgments at detecting trait aggression. However, further research is needed to explain what features of the target people are enabling the accurate judgments of aggression.

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Fig. 1

Data Availability

The data can be found on the Open Science Framework here: https://osf.io/c6aby/. Stimulus material are not open access due to not requesting ethical permission to do so from target people at time of data collection

Code Availability

The analysis code can be found on the Open Science Framework here: https://osf.io/c6aby/

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Contributions

LS conceived of the study and acted as project lead. HM led the data collection. AL and LS conducted the statistical analyses. LO conducted the biomechanical data extraction. LS drafted the manuscript. PM and LA offered writing and theoretical support for paper. All authors approved the final paper.

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Correspondence to Liam Paul Satchell.

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Satchell, L.P., Mayes, H.S., Lee, A.J. et al. Is threat in the way they move? Influences of static and gait information on threat judgments of unknown people. Evolutionary Psychological Science (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40806-020-00249-7

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Keywords

  • Gait perception
  • Aggression
  • Threat perception
  • Static images
  • Walking stimuli