If you were shown a picture of a stranger on a computer and then asked to guess whether that person was armed or not, what do you think you would have said? Would the race or facial features have any effect on your answer? If the person wore a ski mask, would that be enough to convince you that said person is holding a gun? According to a recent study to be published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Perception and Performance, there is no greater factor that contributes to a yes answer than when the participant is holding a gun himself or herself.

In the study, researchers immersed their subjects in the same situation mentioned above save for the fact that they had special items on hand. Some of them held a neutral object such as a ball while others held a toy gun. Results? The participants holding a toy gun were more likely to say that the person onscreen also had a gun than those holding neutral objects.

"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," says Notre Dame Associate Professor of Psychology James Brockmole.

"Beliefs, expectations, and emotions can all influence an observer's ability to detect and to categorize objects as guns," he adds. "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."

Having a gun in hand and knowing what you can do with it clearly influences your perspective. Correlating this discovery with everyday living might be able to explain why some people, including yourself, have certain biases. The researchers cite other studies to support their theory such as one that shows people with broader shoulders think doorways are narrower than they are and another in which softball players with higher batting averages think the ball is bigger.

(Photo source: sxc.hu)

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