In Harm’s Way: On Preferential Response to Threatening Stimuli

David S. March

Lowell Gaertner

Michael A. Olson

Abstract: Given the evolutionary significance of survival, the mind might be particularly sensitive (in terms of strength and speed of reaction) to stimuli that pose an immediate threat to physical harm. To rectify limitations in past research, we pilot-tested stimuli to obtain images that are threatening, nonthreatening-negative, positive, or neutral. Three studies revealed that participants (a) were faster to detect a threatening than nonthreatening-negative image when each was embedded among positive or neutral images, (b) oriented their initial gaze more frequently toward threatening than nonthreatening-negative, positive, or neutral images, and (c) evidenced larger startle-eyeblinks to threatening than to nonthreatening-negative, positive, or neutral images. Social-psychological implications for the mind’s sensitivity to threat are discussed.


  • Evaluative processing
  • Threat
  • Social cognition
  • Negativity
This publication uses Eye Tracking and Eye Tracking Screen Based which is fully integrated into iMotions Lab

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