Threat is in the sex of the beholder: Men find weapons faster than do women

Danielle Sulikowski, Darren Burke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
14 Downloads (Pure)


In visual displays, people locate potentially threatening stimuli, such as snakes, spiders, and weapons, more quickly than similar benign stimuli, such as beetles and gadgets. Such biases are likely adaptive, facilitating fast responses to potential threats. Currently, and historically, men have engaged in more weapons-related activities (fighting and hunting) than women. If biases of visual attention for weapons result from selection pressures related to these activities, then we would predict such biases to be stronger in men than in women. The current study reports the results of two visual search experiments, in which men showed a stronger bias of attention toward guns and knives than did women, whether the weapons were depicted wielded or not. When the weapons were depicted wielded, both sexes searched for them with more caution than when they were not. Neither of these effects extended reliably to syringes, a non-weapon—yet potentially threatening— object. The findings are discussed with respect to the “weapons effect” and social coercion theory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)913-931
Number of pages19
JournalEvolutionary Psychology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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