Mario S. Staller & Jon C. Cole 2016

The Effects of Threat on Cognition: Attentional Biases and Risk-Taking in Police Officers and Martial Artists

Police officers have a higher risk of serious injury in relation to most other occupations and as a result may develop various cognitive biases due to the exposure to life-threatening situations on a routine basis. Martial artists, which engage in self-defence practice, also try to strengthen their capacities to defend themselves in potential dangerous situations and as a result may develop cognitive biases as well through repetitive practice of self-defence.

The current study aims to measure threat-related attentional biases which until now have been thought to be a symptom exclusive to anxiety-disorders, and risk-taking behaviour. We hypothesize that experience in fields where attentional biases may be of adaptive use will yield such and that there may also be a greater propensity to take risks in roles where risk-taking is common. We are employing a battery of cognitive tests which examine subliminal and supraliminal attentional processing and risk-taking behaviour. The sample consists of Police officers, martial artists and a control group who have no exposure to threat of any kind. Implications for the understanding of attentional biases and their effects on decision making in the context of potential life-threatening situations will be discussed.



Mario Staller is a German police officer working more than ten years as a police use of force, self-defense, and firearms instructor. His main areas of research are psychological aspects of conflict management in police contexts, skill development and pedagogical practice in police use of force and self-defense training.

Professor Jon Cole is the academic group lead of the tactical decision making research group af the University of Liverpool. His main areas of interests are conflict psychology, temporal psychology, decision making, and prevention science.