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Assessing threats of violence: Professional skill or common sense?

Journal abstract

When faced with threats of violence, it is of great importance to assess the risk for actual harm to occur. Over the last decades, this task has developed into a domain of its own and professionals have specialised in threat assessment . However, it is yet unknown whether professional experience affects the quality of threat assessments. The present study examined how threat assessment professionals (N = 44), university students (N = 44), and laypersons (N = 45) assessed the risk for violence in three fictitious cases. The assessments (i.e., assigning risk values to different pieces of information) were found to be strikingly similar across the three groups. Yet, professionals agreed more with one another on their assessments, and professionals identified more relevant (empirically supported) threat cues when given the opportunity to request additional information. These results suggest that threat assessment professionals know better than nonprofessionals what information to look for, and hence, they may contribute most in the process of gathering information to clarify the threat. Such knowledge can help to optimise the use of expertise, which may improve the quality of threat assessments. The current findings can be of value to those who consult threat assessment professionals, as well as to the professionals themselves.

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