August 2012
Volume 12, Issue 9
Free
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   August 2012
Armed and attentive: Holding a weapon can alter attentional priorities in scene viewing
Author Affiliations
  • Adam Biggs
    Duke University
  • James Brockmole
    University of Notre Dame
  • Jessica Witt
    Purdue University
Journal of Vision August 2012, Vol.12, 820. doi:10.1167/12.9.820
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      Adam Biggs, James Brockmole, Jessica Witt; Armed and attentive: Holding a weapon can alter attentional priorities in scene viewing. Journal of Vision 2012;12(9):820. doi: 10.1167/12.9.820.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Abstract

The weapons focus effect refers to a robust decrease in one’s memory for scene details when a firearm is present. We conducted two experiments to determine whether this effect arises from changes in overt attentional control, and whether the effect can be modulated by the action capabilities of an observer. In Experiment 1, observers freely viewed as series of images for 5 seconds each while their eye movements were recorded. Each image portrayed an actor who was holding either a weapon or a harmless object. Dwell time on the object held by each actor increased for weapons over neutral objects, and longer looks toward the weapon were accompanied by a decrease in the time spent viewing the actors’ faces. These results support the idea that the weapons focus effect has roots in the reallocation of overt attention during a viewing episode. In Experiment 2, the same procedures were repeated while observers were holding a non-functional pistol. These observers also looked at weapons longer than neutral objects, but, compared to the unarmed observers in Experiment 1, they spent less time looking at objects and more time looking at faces overall. By arming observers, then, the presence of a weapon in a display held less sway over their allocation of attention. This result extends the action-specific account of perception, which posits that the abilities of the observer affect his or her perception of the environment, to the allocation of attention. In this case, holding a weapon biased observers to focus on facial cues relevant for making threat-related decisions rather than the weapon itself. Hence, the action capabilities of an observer can override pervasive attentional biases such as weapons focus during scene viewing.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2012

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