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Effects of Threat on Police Officers' Shooting Behavior: Anxiety, Action Specificity, and Affective Influences on Perception


Arne Nieuwenhuys, Research Institute MOVE, Faculty of Human Movement Sciences, VU University Amsterdam, Van der Boechorstraat 9, 1081 BT Amsterdam, The Netherlands.



In the current study, we investigated the impact of threat and response mode on police officers' distance perception and shooting behavior in relation to a suspect that approached with a knife. To manipulate threat and increase anxiety, the suspect carried either a plastic knife (low threat) or an electrical knife (high threat). Regarding the manipulation of response mode, officers provided either an actual shooting response or indicated their shot verbally. In both cases, perceptual judgments of shooting distances were assessed through visual matching. Results show that high threat led to earlier shooting, but only for actual shooting responses. Although high threat generally induced more anxiety, perceptual judgments remained unaffected by threat and indicated systematic underestimations of the distance to the suspect. It is suggested that in the online control of action, increased anxiety does not affect distance perception but alters the functional relationship between distance and perceived threat, thereby causing officers to shoot the approaching suspect at an earlier stage. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.