|Gun Wielding Increases Bias That Others Hold Guns|
|Living - Society|
|TS-Si News Service|
|Monday, 26 March 2012 02:00|
Notre Dame, IN, USA. Wielding a gun increases a person's bias to see guns in the hands of others.
A study showed that, 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.
Associate Professor of Psychology James Brockmole from the University of Notre Dame, a specialiat in human cognition and how the visual world guides behavior, together with Jessica K. Witt from Purdue University, conducted the study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: 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 the 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.
"Beliefs, expectations, and emotions can all influence an observer's ability to detect and to categorize objects as guns," Dr. Brockmole says. "Now we know that a person's ability to act in certain ways can bias their recognition of objects as well, and in dramatic ways. It seems that people have a hard time separating their thoughts about what they perceive and their thoughts about how they can or should act."
The researchers showed that the ability to act is a key factor in their effects by showing that simply showing observers a nearby gun did not influence their behavior; holding and using the gun was important.
"One reason we supposed that wielding a firearm might influence object categorization stems from previous research in this area which argues that people perceive the spatial properties of their surrounding environment in terms of their ability to perform an intended action," Brockmole says.
For example, other research has shown that people with broader shoulders tend to perceive doorways to be narrower, and softball players with higher batting averages perceive the ball to be bigger. The blending of perception and action representations could explain, in part, why people holding a gun would tend to assume others are, too.
"In addition to the theoretical implications for event perception and object identification, these findings have practical implications for law enforcement and public safety," Brockmole says.
CitationAction Alters Object Identification: Wielding a Gun Increases the Bias to See Guns. Jessica K. Witt and James R. Brockmole. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Perception and Performance 2012. In press.
Attentional states, beliefs, expectations, and emotions influence an observer's ability to detect and categorize objects. In light of recent work in action-specific perception, however, there is another, unexplored, factor that may be critical in object identification: The action choices available to the perceiver. According to the action-specific account of perception, people perceive their environment in terms of their ability to perform an action. Individual variability in body type, performance skill, and intended behavior all scale optical information when making perceptual judgments. To determine if this scaling extends to the identification of objects, we asked whether people holding guns adopt different criteria to classify objects as threatening or nonthreatening. Across multiple experiments, participants determined whether another person was holding a gun or a neutral object such as a wallet. Critically, the participant did this while holding either a gun or a ball. Participants were instructed to raise their held object, as quickly and accurately as possible, if they detected a gun, and to lower their held object in the absence of such a threat. Signal detection analyses showed that holding a gun biased observers to report “gun present” while holding a ball biased observers to report “gun absent.” Thus, by virtue of affording a perceiver the opportunity to use a gun, he or she is more likely to classify objects in a scene as threats and, as a result, to engage in threat-induced behavior (in this case raising a firearm to shoot). These findings provide empirical credence to the familiar saying that when you hold a hammer everything looks like a nail. But, in this case, when you hold a gun, everything looks like a target. In addition to theoretical implications for event perception, object identification, and decision making, these findings have practical implications for law enforcement and public safety.
|Last Updated on Sunday, 25 March 2012 20:03|