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Sizing Up Weapons

May 14, 2012

People think others are larger and stronger if they’re holding a weapon in their hands.



When size matters…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Holding a weapon makes people seem larger, according to a new study by scientists at UCLA. Evolutionary anthropologist Daniel Fessler and his team had volunteers view pictures of hands holding objects such as power tools, paintbrushes, kitchen knives and guns. Then they had them estimate the size of the person holding the object.


And what we show is that when the hand is holding a weapon, they estimate the person attached to that hand being taller and more muscular.


He says weapons represent strength in our minds because of their potential threat to our safety.


Of course, physically their size doesn’t change when they hold a handgun, but behaviorally they become more dangerous. Because all else being equal, the guy with the gun wins.


And being able to quickly size up the outcome of potential conflicts probably helped our ancestors survive. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

People judged hands holding weapons as belonging to larger and stronger bodies than hands holding tools. (Daniel Fessler/UCLA)