Dr Condon’s thesis abstract

This body of work explores the working memory function of police officers while participating in a variety of simulated armed confrontations. In Canada all active duty officers are required to make decisions in exceptionally demanding and challenging circumstances full of novelty, threat and time pressures. Officers are expected to employ the National Use of Force Frame Work (NUFF) to assist decision making in these challenging conditions. One of the main hypotheses of this work is that efficient and effective use of the NUFF requires working memory processing, specifically executive function. Working memory is considered a multi-store, limited capacity system responsible for attention, behavioral control and inhibition.

A variety of physiological measures were collected for the purpose of establishing whether simulated training creates physiological demand on participants. The measures were further used to create inferences around the relationship between cognitive adaptations and psychophysiological demand documented in the literature. The results demonstrate an increase in physiological arousal and suggest that simulated armed confrontations, regardless of simulation equipment used, place increased demand on the officer and result in a general adaptive response.

The results of this work also imply that repetitive training produces changes in cognitive functions and it is reasonable to assume that information processing was devoted to following standard operating procedures (SOPs). It is also reasonable to suggest that where situations were novel or where participants lacked experience, resources were allocated to working memory function in order to facilitate making novel tactical decisions due to the inability to pattern match the cues from the environment. In essences, where SOPs were not available, officers were successful in making decisions from scratch and completing the necessary tasks.

Investigating defensive behaviors of police officers in simulated armed confrontation is a unique environment and one not readily available in all circumstances. The results posit that defensive adaptations in humans affects cognition and the findings are discussed in terms of practical applications for training and design of future research. In general, the work also creates a frame work for further ethological study of human defensive behaviors and suggests that where situations were novel or participants lacked experience, resources were allocated to working memory function in order to facilitate decision making.