Honors Theses

Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Type

Bachelors of Science

Degree Name



College of Psychology

Honors College

Farquhar Honors College Thesis

Honors College Dean

Andrea Nevins

Home College Dean

Karen S. Grosby

Faculty Advisor

Mary Holschbach

Faculty Advisor

Valerie Starratt


Handgrip strength is a sexually dimorphic marker of muscle activation and force production. Males consistently demonstrate greater baseline maximal handgrip strength than females. Various factors can influence an individual’s handgrip strength; interestingly, threat detection can increase handgrip strength. Recently, Kawakami et al. (2018) reported that mortality salience increases handgrip strength in men, but not in women. To explain this finding, they argued that physical strength is a more salient goal for men than women, whereas women should strive for beauty as a strategy to avoid harm. While they did find this interesting sex difference in their study, we had concerns about both their interpretation and potential confounding variables that may have prevented the effect on women's handgrip strength. This prompted the development of a novel experimental strategy to explore alternative explanations for the reported results. Our alternative hypothesis is that during the baseline measure of handgrip strength, the female participants were already performing at “threat detection” levels because of the presence of unfamiliar men in the research environment. This would prevent the further increase driven by the subliminal threats presented later. Whereas their results indicated that women did not respond to threats with increased handgrip strength, we argue that alternatively, the presence of a man was a larger threat than those used as an experimental manipulation. This idea is logical and consistent from an evolutionary angle, since females of several species, including our own, alter their behavior in the presence of males to protect themselves. This thesis compiles existing research on threat detection and handgrip strength and proposes a protocol to include the presence of a male research assistant as an independent variable to systematically address whether this potential confound masked the effects of threats on handgrip strength in women.