Weapon focus remains a popular disruptive mechanism used by criminals to interfere with the eyewitness’s ability to identify them when they perpetrate crime. Goldstein (2015) notes that weapon focus depends on the person holding it. A gun in the hands of a police officer will have minimal interference on eyewitness focus than when in the hands of an ordinary citizen. Brain’s response varies depending on whether the weapon triggers fear in the eyewitness.
Once the eyewitness identifies an object as a weapon, the first question that comes to mind is whether that person has the right to custody of the weapon or not. If the answer is yes, the weapon focus effect is low. On the other hand, if the answer is no, the focus shifts to why the person has the weapon and their intention. From that point onwards, the eyewitness considers their life at risk. The brain commits to keeping eye contact with the weapon so that if the weapon holder decides to use it, the person can take cover.
The cerebral areas involved in a weapon focus scenario are prefrontal, temporolimbic structures (hippocampus, parahippocampus, and amygdala), insular cortex, and orbitofrontal (Bogerts et al., 2017). Further, Bogerts et al. (2017) note that these areas respond to aggression, and the images in the brain play a significant role in preparing for a flight or fight. However, the response depends on how events unfold when a person identifies a weapon in the wrong hands.
The language used by the weapon bearer, the body language, tone, and attitude alert an eyewitness to decide the way to respond to the unfolding events. Goldstein (2015) notes that the focus on the weapon responds to fear triggered by the memory of past terror events. The brain processes past terror images and loads them into the conscious mind. At the conscious mind, the level of alertness increases, leading to the loss of vital details about the weapon bearer.
Bogerts, B., Schöne, M., & Breitschuh, S. (2017). Brain alterations potentially associated with aggression and terrorism. Web.
Goldstein, E. (2015). Cognitive psychology: connecting mind, research and everyday experience (4th ed.). Connecticut: Stamford.