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Targeted threats: An examination of thematic content and approach behavior displayed by mentally ill and non-mentally ill contactors

Charles D Darrow, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Threat assessment involves a set of investigative and operational techniques used to identify, assess, and manage the risks of targeted violence and other problematic approach behavior. The threat assessment approach continues to be refined through empirical research conducted in an effort to identify and better understand the risk factors for engaging in such behaviors, which accounts for the transition to a more dynamic evaluative process. Pertinent is the examination of thematic content utilized by subjects who engage in threatening behavior toward identifiable victims. In targeted threat assessment, thematic content examination involves the analyses of what the threatening individual is saying to the target. For example, if the threatening individual includes language in his threat that has a decidedly religious or political theme, it is considered one relevant theme inherent to that communication between the contactor and target. This study sought to examine the thematic differences and similarities across three groups of a total of 419 subjects who engaged in threatening communication against specified targets: (a) non-mentally individuals, (b) mentally ill individuals who do not display threat/control override symptoms, and (c) mentally ill individuals who do display threat/control override symptoms. Results suggested that non-mentally ill subjects were more likely than their mentally ill counterparts to directly threaten targets and to focus the content of their grievances on policy driven issues as opposed personally relevant issues. Consistent with prior literature, mentally ill subjects who did not display threat/control-override symptoms were far more likely to engage in problematic approach of targets than either of the other two groups. Interestingly, mentally ill subjects without threat/control-override symptoms were more likely than either of the other two groups to communicate their beliefs in a manner suggestive of intense resolve.

Subject Area

Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Darrow, Charles D, "Targeted threats: An examination of thematic content and approach behavior displayed by mentally ill and non-mentally ill contactors" (2013). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3590973.