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Study: Training law-enforcement “itchy brains” can reduce shooting-related civilian casualties

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Brain Train­ing May Help Avoid Civil­ian Casu­al­ties (Duke Today):

Although fir­ing a gun seems like one action, it is made up of many small­er deci­sions and move­ments that require coor­di­na­tion between mul­ti­ple brain areas.

The sud­den deci­sion to not shoot, called ‘response inhi­bi­tion,’ is crit­i­cal when some­one inno­cent comes into the line of fire. That is what sol­diers in war expe­ri­ence when they’re about to pull the trig­ger and then real­ize that their tar­get is a civil­ian or an ally. Or when a law enforce­ment offi­cer real­izes that a per­son they thought was armed and dan­ger­ous is actu­al­ly an inno­cent bystander.

A new Duke study explor­ing the caus­es of civil­ian shoot­ing casu­al­ties sug­gests that mis­takes arise from prob­lems with atten­tion — an “itchy brain,” the authors say — rather than an “itchy trig­ger fin­ger.”

The find­ings, pub­lished online in Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence, imply that the ten­den­cy to squeeze the trig­ger in error can not only be pre­dict­ed with cog­ni­tive tests but can also be over­come by train­ing in response inhi­bi­tion…

The researchers now hope to deter­mine which aspect of the response inhi­bi­tion train­ing made the dif­fer­ence. They will also try to see how long the train­ing might last.”

Study: Cog­ni­tive train­ing can reduce civil­ian casu­al­ties in a sim­u­lat­ed shoot­ing envi­ron­ment (Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence)

  • Abstract: Shoot­ing a firearm involves a com­plex series of cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties. For exam­ple, locat­ing an item or a per­son of inter­est requires visu­al search, and fir­ing the weapon (or with­hold­ing a trig­ger squeeze) involves response exe­cu­tion (or inhi­bi­tion). The present study used a sim­u­lat­ed shoot­ing envi­ron­ment to estab­lish a rela­tion­ship between a par­tic­u­lar cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty and a crit­i­cal shoot­ing error—response inhi­bi­tion and fir­ing on civil­ians, respec­tive­ly. Indi­vid­ual-dif­fer­ence mea­sures demon­strat­ed, per­haps coun­ter­in­tu­itive­ly, that sim­u­lat­ed civil­ian casu­al­ties were not relat­ed to motor impul­siv­i­ty (i.e., an itchy trig­ger fin­ger) but rather to an individual’s cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty to with­hold an already ini­ti­at­ed response (i.e., an itchy brain). Fur­ther­more, active-response-inhi­bi­tion train­ing reduced sim­u­lat­ed civil­ian casu­al­ties, which revealed a causal rela­tion­ship. This study there­fore illus­trates the poten­tial of using cog­ni­tive train­ing to pos­si­bly improve shoot­ing per­for­mance, which might ulti­mate­ly pro­vide insight for mil­i­tary and law-enforce­ment per­son­nel.

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