There are plenty of reasons not to run round wielding a gun, but here’s a new one; holding one makes you think that other people are holding guns too. And that is not a desirable kind of paranoia to find in someone wielding a weapon.
A study conducted at the University of Notre Dame found that holding a gun shifts cognitive bias, making a person holding one far more likely to assume that other people are also holding one.
To reach that conclusion, the researchers showed participants partially obstructed images of people and asked them to say whether the person was holding a neutral object — like a soft-drink can or phone — or a gun. Subjects were asked to do it while either holding a gun or a soft foam ball.
Regardless of the image shown — some images showed people in ski masks, for instance, and images displayed a broad range of races — those holding a gun consistently overestimated the incidence of guns being held in the images. James Brockmole, one of the researchers, explains:
“Beliefs, expectations and emotions can all influence an observer’s ability to detect and to categorize objects as guns. 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 suggest that people perceive their surrounding environment in terms of their ability to perform an intended action — so if you’re holding a gun, you perceive the world as a gun holder. And if you’re a gun holder, it seems everyone else must be a gun-holder. Regardless of why it’s the case, it’s another great reason to clamp down on the availability of firearms. Or to stock up. [University of Notre Dame]