Notre Dame Associate Professor of Psychology James Brockmole, who specializes in human cognition and how the visual world guides behaviour, conducted the research at Notre Dame with Adam Biggs, currently a post-doctoral fellow in the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences and the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, and Jessica Witt, associate professor of cognitive psychology at Colorado State University.
In three experiments, participants were shown scenes in which an actor was holding a gun or a neutral object, such as a beverage or remote control.
The researchers recorded eye movements as participants observed each scene while they were either unarmed, holding a firearm, or wearing a holstered firearm.
The armed observers paid more attention to faces than objects when their guns were in a readily usable position-- not when they were holstered.
Brockmole said that after ruling out several other possible explanations, we believe this occurs because an armed observer must decide if and when to use his or her firearm.
The study has been published in journal Attention, Perception and Psychophysics.