As the investigation continues into last month’s fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida, psychology researchers can point to one aspect of the tragedy: how easy it is to “see” that someone is holding a gun when he is not.
In the latest research, scientists found that simply holding a gun, as George Zimmerman was when he confronted Martin in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, has an effect.
“The mere act of holding a gun makes it more likely that you will perceive an object as a gun,” said James Brockmole, associate professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame and co-author of an upcoming paper on that phenomenon.
“Does that mean that if the neighborhood watch captain had not been armed he would have perceived the situation differently? It’s impossible to say that about any specific situation, but our research shows it is certainly a possibility.”
Martin was walking from a convenience store and had put up his hooded sweatshirt when Zimmerman, a 28-year-old white man, saw him. According to 911 calls the police released last week, Zimmerman followed the teen in his SUV.