A new study's results are particularly disturbing in light of the Trayvon Martin case: If a person is holding a gun, he or she is more likely to assume others are holding guns as well. The University of Notre Dame study asked subjects to look at images and determine whether the person depicted was holding a gun or something neutral, like a soda can. As they looked, the subjects were themselves holding either a toy gun or a foam ball, and those who were holding the toy guns were more likely to report the presence of a gun.
The images shown to subjects were varied: Some people were depicted in ski masks, and various races were included, but the results remained the same. "Beliefs, expectations, and emotions can all influence an observer’s ability to detect and to categorize objects as guns," says one of the researchers. "Now we know that a person’s ability to act in certain ways," such as by holding a gun, "can bias their recognition of objects as well, and in dramatic ways."