Do weapons automatically capture attention?



Two experiments explored whether weapons automatically capture attention or whether eyewitnesses can overcome the weapon focus effect if so instructed. Witnesses heard a lecture that either instructed them to attend to the target individual and avoid fixating on the weapon or presented unrelated information. Subsequently, they observed the target carrying either a weapon or a book and attempted to remember his appearance. Control witnesses reported fewer correct and more incorrect details when he carried a weapon rather than the book. However, the reports of educated witnesses did not differ between object conditions. Additionally, witnesses' ability to avoid weapon focus was unaffected by weapon unusualness and elevated arousal levels, and control witnesses provided better descriptions of the weapon than the book. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.