Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles have confirmed the obvious in a recent study: Basic survival instincts make people more apt to perceive that individuals brandishing a weapon are a threat.
Anthropologists at the school conducted a study during which they showed hundreds of participants photos of nearly identical male hands holding a range of easily recognizable objects including handguns and knives before asking them to gauge the size and strength of the men.
In one part of the study, 628 individuals were asked to look at four pictures of different hands, each holding a single object: a caulking gun, electric drill, large saw or handgun.
“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,” Daniel Fessler, the lead author of the study and an associate professor of anthropology at UCLA explained.
Participants were then asked to estimate the height of each hand model in feet and inches based solely on the photographs of their hands. They were shown six images of progressively taller men and six images of progressively more muscular men and asked to estimate which image came closest to the probable size and strength of the hand model.
The researchers say that 17 percent of the time, the pistol packer was estimated to be stronger and taller than those holding the other objects. A similar outcome was noted when a kitchen knife was shown in the photos.
“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,” said Fessler.