Perception over personality in lethal force: Aggression, impulsivity, and big five traits in threat assessments and behavioral responses due to weapon presence and posture

Thumbnail Image
Biggs, Adam T.
Hamilton, Joseph A.
Suss, Joel M.
Olson, Tatana
Sherwood, Sarah
Issue Date
Lethal force decision making , Aggression , Impulsivity , Personality , Threat perception
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Journal Issue
Alternative Title

The use of lethal force is a combination of threat perception and individual judgment that sometimes warrants a behavioral response. This simplified description implicates perceptual factors and individual differences in lethal force decision making, which ongoing research continues to address. However, personality-based factors have been less explored as to how they might affect either threat perception or behavioral responses in a lethal force decision. The current investigation examined multiple personality traits with the potential to influence lethal force decision making, including aggression, impulsivity, and the Big Five traits. These measures were compared to threat perception and behavioral responses made to a variety of lethal force stimuli broadly categorized as clear threats, ambiguous threats, and clear nonthreats. Samples were recruited from combat-trained infantry, military recruits, and the civilian community to control for prior lethal force training. Although there was a strong omnibus relationship between threat perception and the likelihood of a behavioral response, neither military training nor personality differences had any impact on threat perception or a binary (e.g., shoot/don’t-shoot) behavioral response. Therefore, we conclude that perception dominates personality in lethal force decision making when the threat assessment decision is limited to factors such as weapon presence or posture rather than emotion.

Click on the DOI to access the publisher's version of this article. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, or U.S. government. Several authors are military service members or employees of the U.S. government. This work was prepared as part of their official duties. Title 17 U.S.C. §105 provides that “Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government."
Adam T. Biggs, Joel Suss, Sarah Sherwood, Joseph A. Hamilton, Tatana Olson; Perception Over Personality in Lethal Force: Aggression, Impulsivity, and Big Five Traits in Threat Assessments and Behavioral Responses due to Weapon Presence and Posture. The American Journal of Psychology 1 January 2022; 135 (2): 195–214. doi:
Scholarly Publishing Collective
PubMed ID