Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Multitaskers Less Likely to Shoot

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Multitaskers Less Likely to Shoot

Article excerpt

In the midst of life-threatening situations requiring split-second decisions, police officers with a higher ability to multitask may be less likely to shoot unarmed persons when feeling threatened, a new Georgia State University study suggests.

Heather Kleider, Dominic Parrott, and Tricia King, assistant professors of psychology at Georgia State, have taken a unique look at officer-involved shooting situations, signs of negative emotions, and working memory capacity--the capacity to perform multiple mental tasks, such as reasoning, at the same time.

Other studies have examined factors such as ethnicity, stereotypes, and neighborhood crime rates, but this study examines the effects of police officers' characteristics on shooting decisions. "In cognitive psychology, operation span--or working memory--is an overarching cognitive mechanism that indicates the ability to multitask, and the amount of available capacity to perform tasks varies by individual and situation," Kleider says. "People with a higher capacity are able to keep more things 'in play' at one time."

Urban police officers who participated in the study completed a test of working memory capacity and then watched a video of an officer-involved shooting that resulted in the death of the officer. While watching the video, negative affect and stress indicators were measured, including elevated heart rates and increased sweating.

Following the video, officers participated in a computer-based simulation where they were required to make split-second decisions on whether or not to shoot someone--based on 80 slides that presented a person holding either a gun or a harmless object such as a cell phone--within a fraction of a second. …

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