Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 25–36 | Cite as

A cognitive model of firearms policing

  • Emma L. Kavanagh


The performance of police firearms teams must be efficient and accurate—anything else could result in the death of the officers or those they are tasked with protecting. However, there are a wide range of cognitive factors that impact the way in which these officers perform, many of which are not taken into account while planning tactical operations or during the investigations that follow. This paper considers the role of these cognitive factors in firearms policing, looking at their impacts on officer actions/reactions and the ways in which these effects may be counteracted.


Criminal Psychology Threat Assessment Automatic Behavior Attentional Narrowing Weapon Focus 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adolfson, J. (1967):Human performance and behavior in hyperbaric environments. Stockholm; Almqvist & Wiskell.Google Scholar
  2. Allnut, M. (1982): Human factors: Basic Principles. In Hurst, R. & Hurst, L.R. (Eds)Pilot Error (pp. 1–22). New York: Aronson.Google Scholar
  3. Arnsten, A., & Goldman-Rakic, P. (1998): Development of the cerebral cortex: XIV. Stress impairs prefrontal cortical function.Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 37 (12), 1337–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bargh, J., Chaiken, S., Raymond, R., & Hymes, C. (1996). The automatic evaluation effect: Unconditional automatic attitude activation with a pronunciation task.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 32, 104–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barthol, R., & Ku, N. (1959): Regression under stress to first learned behaviour.Journal of Abnormal & Social Psychology, 59, 134–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Belmore, S., & Hubbard, M. (1987): The role of advance expectancies in person memory.Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 53, 61–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cohen, J., Dunbar, K., & McClelland, J. (1990): On the control of automatic processes: A parallel distributed processing account of the Stroop effect.Psychological Review, 97, 332–61.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Correll, J., Park, B., Judd, C., & Wittenbrink, B. (2002): The police officer’s dilemma: Using ethnicity to disambiguate potentially threatening individuals.Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 83, 1314–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cowan, N. (1999): An embedded-process model of working memory. In Miyake, A. & Shah, P. (Eds)Models of working memory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Department of Homeland Security (April 2004). Survival Scores Research Project. FLETC Research Paper (Principal authors, V. Atkins & W. Norris).Google Scholar
  11. Dijker, A. (1987): Emotional reactions to ethnic minorities.European Journal of Social Psychology, 17, 305–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Doerner, W., & Ho, T. (1994): Shoot-Don’t shoot: Police use of deadly force under simulated field conditions.Journal of Crime & Justice, 17, 49–68.Google Scholar
  13. Easterbrook, J. (1959). The effects of emotion on cue utilization and the organization of behaviour.Psychological Review, 66, 187–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Edland, A., & Svenson, O. (1993): Judgement and decision making under time pressure. In Svenson, O., & Maule, A. (Eds)Time pressure & stress in human judgement and decision making (pp. 27–40). New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  15. Edwards, W. (1954): The theory of decision-making.Psychological Bulletin, 51, 380–417.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fiske, A., & Schneider, W. (1984): Memory as a function of attention, levels of processing and automatization.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory & Cognition, 10, 181–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fiske, S., Lin, M., & Neuberg, S. (1999): The continuum model: 10 years later. In Chaiken, S. & Trope, Y. (Eds)Dual-process theories in social psychology (pp. 231–54). New York; Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  18. Fiske, S., Neuberg, S., Beattie, A., & Milberg, S. (1987): Category-based and attribute-based reactions to others—some informational conditions of stereotyping and individuating processes.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 23(5), 399–427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gigerenzer, G., Hoffrage, U., & Kleinbolting, H. (1991): Probabilistic mental models: A Brunswikian theory of confidence.Psychological Review, 98, 506–28.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Groner, N. (1999): A critique of event modeling as applied to human reliability and a suggested alternative.Proceedings of the SFPE Symposium on Risk, Uncertainty & Reliability in Fire Protection Engineering. Baltimore; Maryland.Google Scholar
  21. Grossman, D. (1995).On killing: The psychological cost of learning to kill in war and society. London; Little, Brown & Company.Google Scholar
  22. Grossman, D. (2004).On combat: The psychology and physiology of deadly conflict in war and in peace. US; PPCT Research Publications.Google Scholar
  23. Janis, I., & Mann, L. (1977).Decision making. New York; Free Press.Google Scholar
  24. Janis, I., Defares, P., & Grossman, P. (1983): Hypervigilant reactions to threat. In Selye, H. (Ed.)Selye’s guide to stress research, Vol. 3 (pp. 1–42). New York; Van Nostrand Reinhold.Google Scholar
  25. Jensen, E. (1995):The learning brain. California; The Brain Store.Google Scholar
  26. Kaempf, G., & Militello, L. (1991): Expert decision-making under stress.Proceedings from the 8th users’ stress workshop. September, 1991.Google Scholar
  27. Klein, G. (1997): Developing expertise in decision making.Thinking & Reasoning, 3, 337–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Klein, G., Calderwood, R., & Clinton-Cirocco, A. (1986): Rapid decision making on the fire ground.Proceedings of the 30th Annual Human Factors Society Meeting. Dayton, Ohio.Google Scholar
  29. Kohn, H. (1954): Effects of variations of intensity of experimentally induced stress situations upon certain aspects of perception and performance.Journal of Genetic Psychology, 85, 289–304.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Kruglanski, A., & Freund, T. (1983): The freezing and unfreezing of lay-inferences: Effects on impressional primacy, ethnic stereotyping & numerical anchoring.Journal of Experimental Society Psychology, 19, 448–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lehner, P., Sayed-Solorforough, M., O’Connor, M., Sak, S., & Mullin, T. (1997): Cognitive biases and time stress in team decision making.IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man & Cybernetics, Part A; Systems & Humans, 27, 698–703.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Loftus, E., Loftus, G., & Messo, J. (1987): Some facts about “weapon focus”,Law & Human Behaviour, 11 (1), 55–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Luchins, A. (1942):Mechanization in problem-solving: The effects of “Einstellung”. Washington, DC; American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  34. Maclean, P. (1990):The Triune Brain in evolution: Role in paleocerebral functions. New York; Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  35. Macleod, C.M. (1998): Training on integrated versus separated Stroop tasks: The progression of interference and facilitation.Memory & Cognition, 26, 201–11.Google Scholar
  36. Omodei, M., & Wearing, A. (1995): The fire chief microworld generating program: an illustration of computer-simulated microworlds as an experimental paradigm for studying complex behaviour.Behavioural Research Methods, Instruments & Computers, 27, 303–16.Google Scholar
  37. Ozel, F. (2001): Time pressure and stress as a factor during emergency egress.Safety Science, 38, 95–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Payne, B. (2001): Prejudice and perception: The role of automatic and controlled processes in misperceiving a weapon.Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 81, 181–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pickel, K. (1998): Unusualness and threat as possible causes of “weapon focus”.Memory, 6, 277–95.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pickel, K., French, T., & Betts, J. (2003): A cross-modal weapon focus effect; The influence of a weapon’s presence on memory for auditory information.Memory, 11 (3), 277–92.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Russo, J., Meloy, M., & Medvec, V. (1998): Predecisional distortion of product information.Journal of Marketing Research, XXXV, November, 438–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Sapolsky, R.M. (2004).Why zebras don’t get ulcers. Pp. 20–36. New York: First Owl Books.Google Scholar
  43. Sharps, M., & Hess, A. (2005): Memory & interpretation of complex crime scenes.Paper presented at the annual meeting for the Society for Police & Criminal Psychology, October 2005.Google Scholar
  44. Smith, M., & Chamberlin, C. (1992): Effects of adding cognitively demanding tasks on soccer skill performance.Perceptual & Motor Skills, 75, 955–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Staw, R., Sandelands, L., & Dutton, J. (1981): Threat rigidity effects in organizational behaviour: A multi-level analysis.Administrative Science, Quarterly, 26, 501–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Tajfel, H. (1969): Cognitive aspects of prejudice.Journal of Social Issues, 25, 79–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Thunholm, P. (June, 2003).Decision making and planning: Towards a new prescriptive model. Ph.D. thesis, Stockholm University, Sweden.Google Scholar
  48. Von Hippel, W., Jonides, J., Hilton, J., & Narayan, S. (1993): Inhibitory effects of schematic processing on perceptual encoding.Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 64, 921–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Wickens, C., Stokes, A., Barnett, B., & Hyman, F. (1991): The effects of stress on pilot judgment in a MIDIS simulator. In Svenson, O. & Maule, J. (Eds)Time pressure and stress in human judgment and decision making (pp. 271–92). New York; Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  50. Weltman, G., Smith, J.E., & Egstrom, G.H. (1971). Perceptual narrowing during simulated pressure chamber exposure.Human Factors, 13(2), 99–107.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Society for Police and Criminal Psychology 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kavanagh Consultancy Services, Ltd.SwanseaWales

Personalised recommendations