Study: Stress-induced cortisol facilitates threat-related decision making among police officers
Research by Columbia Business School's Modupe Akinola, Assistant Professor, Management, and Wendy Berry Mendes, Associate Professor, Sarlo/Ekman Endowed Chair of Emotion, University of California San Francisco in Behavioral Neuroscience examines how increases in cortisol, brought on by an acute social stressor, can influence threat-related decision making. The researchers studied a group of police officers completing a standardized laboratory stressor and then afterwards the group completed a computer simulated threat-related decision making task designed to examine accuracy in decisions to shoot or not shoot armed and unarmed black and white targets.
The study found that male police officers of different ethnic backgrounds with higher cortisol responses to stress made fewer errors in the decision making task, particularly when deciding whether or not to shoot armed black targets relative to armed white targets. To the researchers' knowledge, this is the first study to report an effect of cortisol on threat-related decision making, a departure from studies that observe the impact cortisol has on non-threatening situations. The results indicate that stress may help decision-makers when they are evaluating potential threats.
To conduct the study, the professors recruited 81 active male police officers. 84 percent of the sample listed patrol as their job category. Sergeants accounted for seven percent of the sample and nine percent were investigative officers. The racial composition of the officers was: 44 White, 25 Black, ten Latino, and two Asian. After inducing cortisol increases, they then had police officers complete a shoot/don't shoot computerized-decision making task as a measure of performance. The task also included a race-related component allowing the researchers to test whether cortisol increases differentially affect decision making depending on the race of the potentially hostile (i.e., armed) target. Participants were instructed to respond as quickly as possible whenever a target appeared, by pressing the "a" button on the computer keyboard indicating "shoot" if the target was armed and pressing the "l" button on the computer keyboard indicating "don't shoot/holster gun" if the target was unarmed. The resulting data shows that police officers who had larger cortisol increases to the stress task subsequently made fewer errors in the decision-making task. However, the relationship between increased cortisol reactivity and lower error rates in the task was stronger when the targets were armed and black than when the targets were armed and white. That is, a greater cortisol response resulted in fewer shooting errors, but only when responding to armed black targets.
These findings provide insight into the role that corticosteroids play in influencing cognitive processes by demonstrating that certain processes of cognitive function in humans can be enhanced by cortisol. The overall findings of the study suggest that police departments may want to modulate stress levels in training in order to increase officers' accuracy in their decisions to fire weapons. The results are also intriguing from a societal perspective when one examines the error rates for armed white targets. Officers did not correctly shoot armed white targets (relative to armed black targets). This inaccuracy with armed white targets can certainly be harmful in the field, as it could put officers' and potentially civilians' lives, in danger. Interestingly, the findings of this study are inconsistent with news accounts of police officers mistakenly shooting unarmed Black males. However, it is important to note that in other laboratory studies using the same shooter paradigm as the one in this study, it has been found that civilians do tend to make more errors when completing this task, and do tend to shoot unarmed Black targets more frequently than unarmed White targets, but that was not the case in our sample of police officers.
Provided by Columbia Business School
- Police with higher multitasking abilities less likely to shoot unarmed persons Mar 30, 2009 | not rated yet | 0
- LA thieves nabbed with 'find my phone' app Nov 22, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Stress response predictor in police officers may be relevant for military Dec 09, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Differences in how male, female police officers manage stress may accentuate stress on the job Feb 26, 2009 | not rated yet | 0
- Stress response predictor in police officers may indicate those at high risk for PTSD Nov 29, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
Why is zone 1 in liver more prone to ischemic injury?
May 23, 2013 Hi, Is it because around central vein, there is only deoxygenated blood from the vein where as in the periphery there is hepatic artery. Also why...
How can there be villous adenoma in colon, if there are no villi there
May 22, 2013 As title suggest. Thanks :smile:
How can there be a term called "intestinal metaplasia" of stomach
May 21, 2013 Hello everyone, Ok Stomach's normal epithelium is simple columnar, now in intestinal type of adenocarcinoma of stomach it undergoes "intestinal...
Pressure-volume curve: Elastic Recoil Pressure don't make sense
May 18, 2013 From pressure-volume curve of the lung and chest wall (attached photo), I don't understand why would the elastic recoil pressure of the lung is...
If you became brain-dead, would you want them to pull the plug?
May 17, 2013 I'd want the rest of me to stay alive. Sure it's a lousy way to live but it beats being all-the-way dead. Maybe if I make it 20 years they'll...
MRI bill question
May 15, 2013 Dear PFers, The hospital gave us a $12k bill for one MRI (head with contrast). The people I talked to at the hospital tell me that they do not...
- More from Physics Forums - Medical Sciences
More news stories
(HealthDay)—We've all seen them: the surfers who race to the beach when a hurricane hits, the guy who decides to ride out the storm in his overmatched boat, the tornado chasers who fearlessly steer their ...
Psychology & Psychiatry 14 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
Women at a particular stage in their monthly menstrual cycle may be more vulnerable to some of the psychological side-effects associated with stressful experiences, according to a study from UCL.
Psychology & Psychiatry 15 hours ago | 3.7 / 5 (3) | 0 |
Ernie Pyle – an iconic war correspondent in World War II – reportedly said "There are no atheists in foxholes." A new joint study between two brothers at Cornell and Virginia Wesleyan found that only ...
Psychology & Psychiatry 17 hours ago | 2.5 / 5 (4) | 1
(Medical Xpress)—Research by Stanford scholar Emma Seppala at the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education found that post-traumatic stress disorder decreased in veterans who participated ...
Psychology & Psychiatry 18 hours ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0
(Medical Xpress)—Patients with diabetes who are depressed are much more likely to develop episodes of dangerously low blood sugars, or hypoglycemia, than are those who are not depressed, a new study has ...
Psychology & Psychiatry 19 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |
(Medical Xpress)—A new study by researchers in the US has shown that an ancient virus can be modified to help in the fight against the simian immunodeficiency virus SIV, which is the equivalent in monkeys ...
18 hours ago | 5 / 5 (3) | 0 |
Two mutations central to the development of infantile myofibromatosis (IM)—a disorder characterized by multiple tumors involving the skin, bone, and soft tissue—may provide new therapeutic targets, according to researchers ...
12 hours ago | 3 / 5 (2) | 0 |
Biological processes are generally based on events at the molecular and cellular level. To understand what happens in the course of infections, diseases or normal bodily functions, scientists would need to ...
15 hours ago | 5 / 5 (4) | 0 |
How can healthy people who hear voices help schizophrenics? Finding the answer for this is at the centre of research conducted at the University of Bergen.
18 hours ago | 4 / 5 (2) | 2
(Medical Xpress)—The way Alzheimer's disease is portrayed by advocacy groups and the media is having undue influence on the euthanasia debate, according to a Deakin University nursing ethics professor.
19 hours ago | not rated yet | 2
Talking on a hands-free device while behind the wheel can lead to a sharp increase in errors that could imperil other drivers on the road, according to new research from the University of Alberta.
12 hours ago | not rated yet | 0