Psychologist James Brockmole Researches Impact Holding a Gun Has on People's Perceptions

Wielding a gun increases a person’s bias to see guns in the hands of others, new research from the University of Notre Dame shows.

Notre Dame Associate Professor of Psychology James Brockmole, who specializes in human cognition and how the visual world guides behavior, together with a colleague from Purdue University, conducted the study, which will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.

In five experiments, subjects were shown multiple images of people on a computer screen and determined whether the person was holding a gun or a neutral object such as a soda can or cell phone. Subjects did this while holding either a toy gun or a neutral object such as a foam ball.

The researchers varied the situation in each experiment—such as having the people in the images sometimes wear ski masks, changing the race of the person in the image or changing the reaction subjects were to have when they perceived the person in the image to hold a gun. Regardless of the situation the observers found themselves in, the study showed that responding with a gun biased observers to report “gun present” more than did responding with a ball. Thus, by virtue of affording the subject the opportunity to use a gun, he or she was more likely to classify objects in a scene as a gun and, as a result, to engage in threat-induced behavior, such as raising a firearm to shoot.

When you’re a gun, the whole world looks like a target.


Notes

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    “In addition to the theoretical implications for event perception and object identification, these findings have...
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    When you’re a gun, the whole world looks like a target.
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    Another study shows that holding a gun (as opposed to a plastic fake gun) increases levels of testosterone (which also...
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