Action Alters Object Identification: Wielding a Gun Increases The Bias to See Guns

Department of Psychological Sciences, Purdue University.
Journal of Experimental Psychology Human Perception & Performance (Impact Factor: 3.36). 04/2012; 38(5):1159-67. DOI: 10.1037/a0027881
Source: PubMed


Stereotypes, expectations, and emotions influence an observer's ability to detect and categorize objects as guns. In light of recent work in action-perception interactions, however, there is another unexplored factor that may be critical: The action choices available to the perceiver. In five experiments, participants determined whether another person was holding a gun or a neutral object. Critically, the participant did this while holding and responding with either a gun or a neutral object. Responding with a gun biased observers to report "gun present" more than did responding with a ball. Thus, by virtue of affording a perceiver 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 (raising a firearm to shoot). In addition to theoretical implications for event perception and object identification, these findings have practical implications for law enforcement and public safety. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved).

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Available from: James R Brockmole
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    • "However, a meta-analysis of 'weapons effect' experiments (Carlson et al., 1990) found an overall effect of the presence of weapons on aggression. Later research found that weapons-associated words could also produce an enhanced aggressive response (Subra, Muller, Begue, Bushman, & Delmas, 2010) and, particularly important in understanding the motivation to carry a weapon, that carrying a weapon increases the perception that other people are also carrying weapons (Witt & Brockmole, 2012). "
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    • "Beyond the perception of spatiotemporal properties, object recognition can also be distorted by potential interactions with the environment. For example, holding a gun leads to a bias for observers to perceive guns in the hands of others (Witt & Brockmole, 2012). Here, we ask whether the effects of action are limited to perceptual mechanisms or whether they also apply to attentional control. "
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    ABSTRACT: The action-specific perception hypothesis (Witt, Current Directions in Psychological Science 20: 201-206, 2011) claims that the environment is represented with respect to potential interactions for objects present within said environment. This investigation sought to extend the hypothesis beyond perceptual mechanisms and assess whether action-specific potential could alter attentional allocation. To do so, we examined a well-replicated attention bias in the weapon focus effect (Loftus, Loftus, & Messo, Law and Human Behaviour 1, 55-62, 1987), which represents the tendency for observers to attend more to weapons than to neutral objects. Our key manipulation altered the anticipated action-specific potential of observers by providing them a firearm while they freely viewed scenes with and without weapons present. We replicated the original weapon focus effect using modern eye tracking and confirmed that the increase in time looking at weapons comes at a cost of less time spent looking at faces. Additionally, observers who held firearms while viewing the various scenes showed a general bias to look at faces over objects, but only if the firearm was in a readily usable position (i.e., pointed at the scenes rather than holstered at one's side). These two effects, weapon focus and the newly found bias to look more at faces when armed, canceled out one another without interacting. This evidence confirms that the action capabilities of the observer alter more than just perceptual mechanisms and that holding a weapon can change attentional priorities. Theoretical and real-world implications are discussed.
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    • "Representation of the hands and of tools seems to be so critical to cognition that merely imagining the manipulation of one's hands (Davoli & Abrams, 2009), imagining direct (Witt & Proffitt, 2008) or remote (Davoli, Brockmole, & Witt, 2012) tool-based interactions, and observing others' interactions with objects are sufficient to alter visual processing in the same manner as actual performance. "
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