Perception of threat and intent to harm from vocal and facial cues

James Tompkinson*, Mila Mileva, Dominic Watt, Anthony Michael Burton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


What constitutes a “threatening tone of voice”? There is currently little research exploring how listeners infer threat, or the intention to cause harm, from speakers’ voices. Here, we investigated the influence of key linguistic variables on these evaluations (Study 1). Results showed a trend for voices perceived to be lower in pitch, particularly those of male speakers, to be evaluated as sounding more threatening and conveying greater intent to harm. We next investigated the evaluation of multimodal stimuli comprising voices and faces varying in perceived dominance (Study 2). Visual information about the speaker’s face had a significant effect on threat and intent ratings. In both experiments, we observed a relatively low level of agreement among individual listeners’ evaluations, emphasising idiosyncrasy in the ways in which threat and intent-to-harm are perceived. This research provides a basis for the perceptual experience of a “threatening tone of voice,” along with an exploration of vocal and facial cue integration in social evaluation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Early online date5 Apr 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The research leading to these results has received funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (award no. 1500500), along with the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013)/ERC Grant Agreement No. 323262. The research leading to these results has also received funding from a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship (PF20\100034) awarded to Mila Mileva.

Publisher Copyright:
© Experimental Psychology Society 2023. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (


  • Physiology (medical)
  • General Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Medicine
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology


Dive into the research topics of 'Perception of threat and intent to harm from vocal and facial cues'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this