Does This Gun Make Me Look Bigger?
New research from UCLA suggests holding a gun makes men look bigger, stronger and more masculine. Published in the journal PLoS ONE, the study was conducted by asking hundreds of Americans to estimate the size and muscularity of four men, each holding a different object. The men holding guns were perceived as not only larger, but also stronger than the other men.
Daniel Fessler is the lead author of the paper and an associate professor of anthropology at UCLA. According to him, assuming a gun-wielder is large is an automatic mental-leap.
“There’s nothing about the knowledge that gun powder makes lead bullets fly through the air at damage-causing speeds that should make you think that a gun-bearer is bigger or stronger, yet you do,” Fessler said in a statement.
“Danger really does loom large — in our minds.”
This automatic leap suggests there is an unconscious mental mechanism in our minds similar to those found in animals used to quickly estimate the size and strength of possible foes.
The study is part of a larger project, which is being funded by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research. The results could be used to train and equip law enforcement and military personnel.
“We’re exploring how people think about the relative likelihood that they will win a conflict, and then how those thoughts affect their decisions about whether to enter into conflict,”
To conduct the study. Fessler and his team put calls out to online want-ad sites Craigslist and MechanicalTurk. In one round, participants were asked to look at pictures of four hands, each holding a different tool, such as caulking guns, electric drills and saws, while one of the hands pictured was holding a gun.
The decision to use tools was quite intentional.
“Tools were used as control objects to rule out the possibility that a simple link with traditionally masculine objects would explain intuitions that the weapon-holders were larger and stronger,” Fessler explained.
Based solely on the photographs of hands, the participants were asked to guess the height of each hand model. Then, the participants were shown pictures of men with progressing height and muscularity; shortest to tallest, then wimpiest to strongest.
According to their research, the participants consistently assumed the larger, stronger men matched the hand model holding the gun.
In order to stray away from any possible mistake or bias, the researchers were careful to take pictures of each hand model holding each object-some participants saw a gun held by a smaller model while others saw pictures of larger men holding the gun. The researchers also picked the models based on their similar appearance, white and free of any distinguishing marks.
On average, the participants viewed the wielding models to be 17% larger than those holding the other tools. Interestingly, the participants consistently viewed the hand holding the caulking gun to be the smallest man.
To make sure the results weren’t influences by pop culture’s depiction of large, burly men toting firearms, the researchers also showed two other groups pictures of hand models holding kitchen knives, paint brushes, and squirt guns.
Unsurprisingly, the kitchen knife was viewed as the most dangerous object of the three. However, while the images of the handguns were associated with large men, the images of the kitchen knife were associated with women.