Reactions to threat and personality: Psychometric differentiation of intensity and direction dimensions of human defensive behaviour

Adam M. Perkins, Philip J. Corr

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Gray and McNaughton [Gray JA, McNaughton N. The neuropsychology of anxiety. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2000] predict that fear is associated with orientation away from threat whereas anxiety is associated with orientation towards threat; this first dimension of ‘defensive direction’ is independent of a second dimension of ‘defensive intensity’. Defensive reactions were measured using a threat scenario questionnaire developed by Blanchard et al. [Blanchard DC, Hynd AL, Minke KA, Minemoto T, Blanchard RJ. Human defensive behaviours to threat scenarios show parallels to fear- and anxiety-related defence patterns of non-human mammals. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 2001;25:761–70] who found that responses paralleled the defensive reactions of rodents faced with real threats. In a sample of 141 participants we replicated Blanchard et al.'s findings as well as confirming the Gray and McNaughton hypotheses. As predicted, trait anxiety was associated with a tendency to orientate towards threat. In addition, the personality trait of psychoticism (tough-mindedness) was related to defensive intensity with low scorers on psychoticism being more sensitive to threat in general and high scorers being more threat insensitive. A well-established personality measure of general punishment sensitivity, namely the Carver and White [Carver CS, White TL. Behavioural inhibition, behavioural activation, and affective responses to impending reward and punishment: the BIS/BAS scales. J Pers Soc Psychol 1994;67:319–33] BIS scale, was positively correlated with both defensive intensity and direction. These data indicate that the threat scenario questionnaire has some validity as a measure of human reactions to threat.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-28
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2006

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