The Social Research Center

at Pomona College

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The Social Research Center, situated in the Psychology Department of Pomona College, is the research center of Dr. Suzanne C. Thompson, Professor of Psychology. We conduct research on threat orientation model, an individual difference model explaining how people process and respond to health and safety threats (Thompson, Schlehofer, & Bovin, 2006), With a grant from the National Science Foundation awarded to Dr. Thompson, we are examining how these threat orientations influence the processing of threatening information and guide health and safety behaviors.


The threat orientation model posits that people respond to threats in four different ways. With a control-based threat orientation, people will engage in practical behaviors to minimize their risk, and thus reduce anxiety. Alternately, people with a heightened sensitivity-based orientation engage in “overkill” risk-reduction behavior that exceeds the level of the threat but does not decrease anxiety. Others with an optimistic denial-based orientation underestimate their risk and thus feel little anxiety. Finally, people with an avoidance denial-based orientation avoid thinking about a threat in an effort to minimize anxiety.


Threat orientations can and do have implications for health and safety behaviors. People who have a control-based threat orientation generally engage in more protective and health-promoting behaviors and are more likely to seek out information on how they can protect themselves from health and safety risks. For example, when hearing that one is at high risk for skin cancer, a person with a control-based orientation might take control of the situation, taking precautions to decrease their risk of skin cancer (such as wearing sunscreen), and feeling better about their risk for doing so. Those with a heightened sensitivity-based orientation might also attempt to take control of the situation, but may still feel that they are at high risk of acquiring skin cancer. In contrast, people who have a denial-based orientation generally engage in fewer protective behaviors. Optimistic deniers might deny that they are at risk for skin cancer by rationalizing why they are not at risk, whereas avoidance deniers may deny their risk by avoiding health information that emphasizes their risk. For a list of relevant publications on threat orientations coauthored by Dr. Thompson, please click here.

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