April 18, 2012
Does a gun actually change one's outward appearance?
It's been long established that you can take any ordinary schmo, give him a gun, and suddenly he's James Bond. Even Dirty Harry may not have looked as "dirty" if it wasn't for his trusty Smith & Wesson Model 29.
Guns may make a guy look cooler -- but do they change anything else? According to a recent study, they do. Guns make guys look taller.
A team of researchers at UCLA concluded that holding a gun makes a man look taller and stronger in the viewers' eyes than a knife, saw or any other tools.
Published in the journal PLoS ONE, the study was conducted to understand human decision making when facing a potentially violent or life-threatening situation.
"Violent conflict with conspecifics is a fundamental factor influencing fitness in many social species, humans included," the study says in the introduction. "We can therefore expect that such species will possess adaptations that facilitate decision-making in potentially agonistic interactions, as the individual must determine whether is it best to fight, flee, or appease the prospective foe."
Participants in the study were instructed to judge the size and weight of a man holding various tools -- including a .45-caliber pistol and a .357 revolver, as well as a kitchen knife, a caulking gun, a saw and others.
Whether it's because of cultural stigma or the implied strength required to fire a handgun, researchers found that participants generally perceived those with guns to be taller and larger.
"Knowing that an individual possesses a potentially lethal object, be it a handgun or a kitchen knife, led our U.S. participants to generally conceptualize the target individual as taller and larger in overall body size and muscularity," the study says. "... These findings constitute preliminary evidence in support of the hypothesis that conceptualized size and strength act as key dimensions in a cognitive representation that summarizes the formidability of a potential foe, where possession of a weapon is one factor contributing to said formidability."
It's a given that staring down the barrel of a gun can be pretty intimidating, but who would have guessed just holding a handgun could make a shooter look bigger and stronger?