The subtitle of my blog – – is “observations on astrology and human nature”. This little item is very much about the latter:

The simple act of holding a gun increases a person’s bias to see guns in the hands of others. So says Notre Dame Associate Professor of Psychology James Brockmole, who specializes in human cognition in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.

Brockmole’s research was developed through a series of experiments in which subjects gazed at individuals on a computer screen and were asked whether the person was holding a gun or some other object. The subjects made their assessments while they themselves held either a toy gun or a neutral object such as a foam ball. No matter the scenario, the subjects were more likely to report “gun present” when they themselves were holding a gun.

“Beliefs, expectations and emotions can all influence an observer’s ability to detect and to categorize objects as guns,” 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.”

Interestingly, Brockmole believes that the ability to act – in this case, by actually holding a gun – is a key factor in the perception of his subjects. Simply letting them see a nearby gun did not influence their behavior; holding and using the gun was critical to their judgment.