Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Psychological Factor in Police Shooting

"The Justice Department recently analyzed eight years of shootings by Philadelphia police officers. Its report [see post below] contained two sobering statistics: Fifteen percent of those shot were unarmed; and in half of these cases, an officer reportedly misidentified a “nonthreatening object (e.g., a cellphone) or movement (e.g., tugging at the waistband)” as a weapon.
Many factors presumably contribute to such shootings, ranging from carelessness to unconscious bias to explicit racism, all of which have received considerable attention of late, and deservedly so.
But there is a lesser-known psychological phenomenon that might also explain some of these shootings. It’s called “affective realism”: the tendency of your feelings to influence what you see — not what you think you see, but the actual content of your perceptual experience. . . The brain is a predictive organ. A majority of your brain activity consists of predictions about the world — thousands of them at a time — based on your past experience. These predictions are not deliberate prognostications like “the Red Sox will win the World Series,” but unconscious anticipations of every sight, sound and other sensation you might encounter in every instant. These neural “guesses” largely shape what you see, hear and otherwise perceive.
In every moment, your brain consults its vast stores of knowledge and asks, “The last time I was in a similar situation, what sensations did I encounter and how did I act?” If you’re in a produce section, your brain is already predicting that an apple is nearby. If you are in a part of town with a high crime rate, your brain may well predict a weapon. Only after the fact does your brain check the world to see if its prediction was right."
The authors of the report note: "
Let us reiterate: We are not claiming that affective realism is the preferred explanation for police shootings that involve the misidentification of weapons. Nor are we claiming that racial bias has had nothing to do with such shootings. Indeed, affective realism may be one pernicious way in which racial bias expresses itself.
What we do know is that the brain is wired for prediction, and you predict most of the sights, sounds and other sensations in your life. You are, in large measure, the architect of your own experience."


  1. This lesser known phenomenon follows Pavlov's conditioning experiments with dogs. I believe an officer's use of deadly force is a reflexive action to preserve their own and/or others' lives. No different than what responsible armed citizens would do. Private citizens, however, would rightfully face criminal prosecution if they pulled their sidearm in the heat of passion. Such act is overlooked with cops as pulling their sidearm is part of their training.

  2. To clarify my earlier comment. It's my understanding that a citizen who exposes their concealed handgun when the situation didn't warrant it can be charged with a criminal offense. Police, on the other hand, are trained to pull their weapon when attempting to control a questionable suspect or event.