Thanksgiving Is Ruined

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February 28, 2014
guns and (literally) perception

The following incidents all seem to have something in common:

"The only tunnel vision I had was his right hand and the gun in his hand." . . . He said he then looked for the gun he had seen Mr Duggan holding. He said he could not find it, adding that it had "disappeared".

also August 2011:
 "Orange County Cop Shot Man Holding Cell Phone, Claims He Thought It Was A Handgun"

But Williams played the 911 recording in which he first tells the operator that the man had a gun, then says he thought the man had a gun. The arriving police officer wrote in his report that Chitty told him, "I'm sorry, I thought he had a gun."

Martin was alone in his car when emergency workers removed him. No gun was found

"At least one of the officers thought he saw something in the suspect's hands" Scottsdale Police Sgt. Mark Clark told Arizona's KPNX . . . Detectives found no weapon on Loxas following the shooting.

"There was no -- no doubt in my mind that that was a weapon. That that was a firearm. The doubt came in when the police started telling me that they didn`t recover anything in the car at the scene."

Officials later determined Kaluza-Graham did not have a weapon with him. Gerlach defended what he saw and how he reacted in the moment. "There absolutely was something in his hand,” said Gerlach. Gerlach said his decision to draw his weapon and then fire a shot all happened in less than two seconds.

The trooper pursued him and fired at Pinkard when he thought he saw a gun. No one was hurt and no weapon was ever found . . .

"A male subject opened the front door pointing a pistol ... and pulled the trigger," the affidavit reads. The officer fired one round. . . . eyewitness testimony establishes that Roupe was holding a Wii Remote, not a handgun, when he opened the door.

Bordering on the unfathomable . . . 

unless, in some small part . . .  neuroscience to the rescue? 

as so often seems to be the aspiration nowadays. . . . 

Dr. Arne Nieuwenhuys seems currently to be a guy to go to on this.

See, e.g.:

Nieuwenhuys, Savelsbergh & Opedjans (2012) "Shoot or don't shoot: Why police officers are more inclined to shoot they they are anxious" Emotion 12, 827-33


We investigated the effect of anxiety on police officers' shooting decisions. Thirty-six police officers participated and executed a low- and high-anxiety video-based test that required them to shoot or not shoot at rapidly appearing suspects that either had a gun and "shot," or had no gun and "surrendered." Anxiety was manipulated by turning on (high anxiety) or turning off (low anxiety) a so-called "shootback canon" that could fire small plastic bullets at the participants. When performing under anxiety, police officers showed a response bias toward shooting, implying that they accidentally shot more often at suspects that surrendered. Furthermore, shot accuracy was lower under anxiety and officers responded faster when suspects had a gun. Finally, because gaze behavior appeared to be unaffected by anxiety, it is concluded that when they were anxious, officers were more inclined to respond on the basis of threat-related inferences and expectations rather than objective, task-relevant visual information.


Nieuwenhuys & Oudejans (2010) "Effects of anxiety on handgun shooting behavior of police officers: a pilot study" Anxiety Stress Coping. 2010; 23(2): 225-33


The current pilot study aimed at providing an initial assessment of how anxiety influences police officers' shooting behavior. Seven police officers participated and completed an identical shooting exercise under two experimental conditions: low anxiety, against a non-threatening opponent, and high anxiety (HA), against a threatening opponent who occasionally shot back using colored soap cartridges. Measurements included shooting accuracy, movement times, head/body orientation, and blink behavior. Results showed that under HA, shooting accuracy decreased. Underlying this degradation of performance, participants acted faster and made themselves smaller to reduce the chance of being hit. Furthermore, they blinked more often, leading to increases in the amount of time participants had their eyes closed. Findings provide support for attentional control theory, hereby also pointing to possible interventions to improve police officers' shooting performance under pressure.

But see also:

Zhaoping L, Jingling L (2008) "Filling-In and Suppression of Visual Perception from Context: A Bayesian Account of Perceptual Biases by Contextual Influences." PLoS Computational BiologyFeb. 2008

glossed here:

How Believing Can Be Seeing: Context Dictates What We Believe We See

Scientists at UCL (University College London) have found the link between what we expect to see, and what our brain tells us we actually saw. The study reveals that the context surrounding what we see is all important -- sometimes overriding the evidence gathered by our eyes and even causing us to imagine things which aren't really there. . . .


Miller S, Zielaskowski K (2010) "The basis of shooter biases: beyond cultural stereotypes." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Oct. 2010


White police officers and undergraduate students mistakenly shoot unarmed Black suspects more than White suspects on computerized shoot/don't shoot tasks. This bias is typically attributed to cultural stereotypes of Black men. Yet, previous research has not examined whether such biases emerge even in the absence of cultural stereotypes. The current research investigates whether individual differences in chronic beliefs about interpersonal threat interact with target group membership to elicit shooter biases, even when group membership is unrelated to race or cultural stereotypes about danger. Across two studies, participants with strong beliefs about interpersonal threats were more likely to mistakenly shoot outgroup members than ingroup members; this was observed for unfamiliar, arbitrarily formed groups using a minimal group paradigm (Study 1) and racial groups not culturally stereotyped as dangerous (Asians; Study 2). Implications for the roles of both group membership and cultural stereotypes in shaping decisions to shoot are discussed.

Who will step up with the funding for some more scientific studies in this realm? 

Probably not this guy.