Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version

June 1998


Published in Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 20, 93-102. Copyright 1998 Lawrence Erlbaum. Used by permission. Journal home =
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In Study 1,we explored whether guns presented for target shooting would lead subjects to assign longer prison sentences for crimes unrelated to the guns. Weapon-condition subjects recommended longer sentences than did control subjects, who had experienced equally energizing sports activities. In Study 2, subjects acting as jurors watched a police officer’s videotaped deposition about a burglary arrest. Through the deposition, subjects in all conditions received identical information about the gun. However, some subjects heard the description of the gun taken from the burglar; some heard the description and saw the gun when it was placed on the evidence table near them; and some heard the description and handled the gun. Burglary-tool salience was manipulated similarly for another crime, but it had no effect. With increased weapon salience, subjects attributed more guilt and assigned longer sentences, but there were some differences betweenmen and women, and we found unexpected positive relations between sentence severity and empathy. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of our general finding that weapon salience elicits harsher criminal sentences.