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Emotional Reactivity and Police Expertise in Use-of-Force Decision-Making

NCJ Number
Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology Volume: 36 Issue: 3 Dated: March 2021 Pages: 513-522
Vivian P. Ta ; Brian Lande ; Joel Suss
Date Published
March 2021
10 pages

Given the vast amount of evidence showing the substantial influence of emotion on decision-making, this study examined emotionality—a person’s emotional reactivity to a stimulus—in police use-of-force decision-making between a sample of expert (n = 42) and novice (n = 36) officers.


Officers observed body-worn camera footage and described the course of action they would take, the kinds of information they paid attention to, and their assessment of the situation. Natural language processing techniques were used to detect measures of valence, arousal, and dominance from officer responses. Linear mixed-effects models indicated that responses from experts were more positively valanced, more dominant, and less arousing compared with responses from novices. In other words, the ability to react and assess situations calmly, with a greater sense of control, and less negatively seems to be linked with the production of accurate, effective, and efficient behaviors that mark expert policing. These results shed light on the ways in which expert and novice officers understand and experience stimuli involved in use-of-force decision-making. Practical implications for use-of-force training and future directions are discussed. (publisher abstract modified)