Guns Make People Look Bigger, Says New Study


Feeling lucky?

Who knew? Researchers from UCLA report this finding in their article, "Weapons Make the Man (Larger): Formidability Is Represented as Size and Strength In Humans," published this week in the online journal PLoS One. From the study:

In order to determine how to act in situations of potential agonistic conflict, individuals must assess multiple features of a prospective foe that contribute to the foe's resource-holding potential, or formidability. Across diverse species, physical size and strength are key determinants of formidability, and the same is often true for humans…

A wide variety of cognitive representations draw on bodily experience, often without explicit recognition of the relationship between representations and their sources. This suggests that representations of relative formidability may be the product of lived events. Even in peaceful societies, from infancy onward, children inevitably have the recurrent experience that conflicts are won by the bigger, stronger person. Hence, over the course of development, size and strength may come to play a central role in representations of relative formidability.

If representations of a potential foe employ conceptualized size and strength as a medium for summarizing formidability, then augmenting the foe's formidability should cause the actor's conception of the foe's size and strength to increase. In humans, weapons are a primary determinant of victory in dyadic violence, and the modern handgun is prototypic in this regard. We therefore sought to test the above prediction by exploring whether knowing that someone possesses a gun increases estimations of that person's size and strength.

Guess what? It does. As the study reports:

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. Our auxiliary investigations indicate that these patterns are not explicable in terms of cultural schemas linking bodily properties to the objects at issue, nor can they be explained in terms of background knowledge regarding the actual properties of gun owners. 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

Prior work in humans indicates that information regarding an individual's social status also influences perceptions of the individual's size. Recently, Marsh, Yu, Schechter, and Blair demonstrated that nonverbal cues associated with social status exercise a similar influence. In humans, status can reflect either dominance (i.e., position achieved through force or the threat thereof), prestige (i.e., position achieved through deference freely granted by others in light of accomplishments), or a combination of these factors. While dominance is a universal feature of status hierarchies in social animals, prestige is thought to be unique to humans. This suggests that the psychological mechanisms with which humans navigate status hierarchies initially evolved to address dominance, and were subsequently modified in our lineage to also address prestige. We can therefore expect that the human representational systems that address status, having evolved from systems concerned with formidability, likely employ physical size to summarize diverse factors affecting social position.

On the other hand, this study brings to mind the old saying: "God made men, but Sam Colt made them equal."

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  1. So that’s why the media kept reporting that Zimmerman was so much bigger than Martin.

    1. which he was before he went on the msm weight-loss plan…per his original attorneys who later quit the case.

  2. Meh. Someone should determine whether people make guns look bigger.

    1. Looking at the muzzle makes guns look bigger.

  3. OK, I think I can live with that lol.

  4. ok, lol, I think I can live with that.

  5. “I’m sorry I lied to you, Marge. But this gun had a hold on me. I felt this incredible surge of power, like God must feel when He’s holding a gun.”

    1. No wonder God always looks so big on the Simpsons.

  6. hmm… this probably explains why my wimpy 6’4″ older brother never got mugged, even though he used to live in some semi-shitty neighborhoods in Chicago.

    1. Predators always prey on the weak, whether by stature or health. It’s just easier.

    2. My older brother is like 6’3″, weighs a good 250 and walks around with a look like a bear just bit him in the butt. He is basically the cliche of a big mean cowboy. But he lives in a small town. And he hates cities. He is always paranoid about bad neighborhoods. I finally told him once “just who do you think is going to screw with you?”

      1. He is always paranoid about bad neighborhoods. I finally told him once “just who do you think is going to screw with you?”

        Someone hungry and/or desperate. Drug addicts don’t make the most rational of choices.

        1. I feel pretty bad for the skinny methhead that does that.

      2. I’m 6’9″ and was probably about 275 back when I went to bars a lot. There’s no shortage — no pun intended — of little men or just random-ass guys who want trouble.

        1. 6’9″?!? Jesus Christ! Are you STEVE SMITH?

          1. NIGHT ELF MOHAWK NEVER TYPE IN ALL CAPS!! No, of course not.

        2. ah, the Napoleon complex.

          I’m “only” 6’2″ – if I stand straight – but no one seems to want to start a fight with me. Perhaps it’s the dead eyes.

          1. Meh, I’m 5’8″. Nobody’s started a fight with me since I gouged someone’s eyes.

      3. In 2005 I was in one of the shadier neighborhoods of Cincinnati on the way to a concert (Porcupine Tree on the Deadwing tour if anyone cares). In the car with me was a guy from Eastern KY who is 6’10” 320 lbs. When stopped at a red light where there were various shady characters looming, I said “boy am I glad to be with you while we troll my brand new car through the ghetto” to which he replied “fuck that, I’m glad to be in the car where we can get the fuck out quick.”

        Even big dudes fear the ghetto.

  7. Had gun pointed at me once. The person holding it disappeared. All I could see was the muzzle and despite whatever caliber it actually was, that muzzle was THIIIIISSS big.

    1. Makes a .22 look like a 12ga, huh?

      1. Somebody points a 12 gauge at you, that muzzle looks like it could swallow your hand.

        1. OT: Do you think penises look like guns to women? As in, appear bigger when they’re pointed at them?

    2. I too had a gun pointed at me once. It was a 12 gauge shotgun, the guy holding it was a cop who was perhaps 8-10′ away, and we were in my own fucking front yard.

      It was a few days after Hurricane Andrew fucked everything up, and, being as our roof and windows were destroyed during the storm, everything was wet, it was mid 90s in the day with humidity to match, mold was taking over and it just wasn’t all that safe to stay inside (not to mention it was cooler outside than inside). I was “violating” a curfew by being outside, and the cop was going to make damn sure that I knew who had the power around there.

      I sincerely hope that motherfucker is a victim on their war on cops narrative.

  8. I beleive Napoleon had his Imperial Guard troops wear tall, imposing bearskin headgear, to make them look more imposing.

  9. So, the gun adds a few inches and the camera adds ten pounds. . . I could lose weight simply by selling my camera and buying a gun!

  10. A related phenomenon is people in gun fights, especially in close quarters, getting shot in the hands, as that is where the threat is. Hurts like hell with training ammo, even with gloves on, I fortunately don’t similar experience with the more deadly ammo variety.

  11. Guns do make me bigger. In my pants.

  12. She pointed to 38s at me. She had a gun, too.

  13. Three hundred and forty-four adults living in the United States were recruited in multiple U.S. cities via to participate in an unpaid online study

    Fucking anthropologists. This one shouldn’t really count as a publication for tenure.

  14. Guns made Angela Davis one of the biggest things in California.

  15. My favorite quote from Warty: “Who do you think is more dangerous: an armed man with a tiny penis, or an armed man with a giant floppy horsecock?”

  16. thats a great pic

  17. I’d like to see more women carry guns so don’t use that particular slogan with potential women customers. They might take it the wrong way.

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