[Below is the original script. But a few changes may have been made during the recording of this audio podcast.]
Shooting an innocent person is a police officer’s nightmare. So far research has blamed such errors on environmental and racial stereotypes, but new research published in Applied Cognitive Psychology adds another variable.
Apparently, successfully multitasking and staying calm help cops make good decisions.
First, scientists measured the working memory of 24 police officers. Working memory refers to the amount of information we hold in our heads while we perform other tasks.
The cops then watched a video of a threatening situation in which a cop was killed, and their levels of arousal were measured via heart rate and facial movement.
After viewing the video, officers were asked to make decisions, by immediately clicking a “shoot” or “don’t shoot” key, when shown computer-generated slides of armed and unarmed targets.
Cops with limited working memory, and high emotional arousal, made more errors than cops with large working memory.
According to the authors high stress puts a strenuous load on working memory, and if one has limited working memory, their ability to accurately assess a situation is impaired.
So for those faced with multitasking and high stress, remember working extra hard to keep cool under pressure has useful benefits—perhaps even lifesaving ones.