Posted on Jul. 9, 2020 by Emily Hatch

It is no surprise: critical decision-making and problem solving become increasingly difficult in stress-filled atmospheres. The weight of the situation, the struggle to remember prober tactics and the knowledge that each action carries significant consequences combine to create a tense environment.

Stress Inoculation Training

Trainees are best prepared for these situations after extensive practice in psychologically-similar situations. Through stress inoculation, not only are law enforcement able to train to think better in difficult circumstances, they can also gain control over advantages such as focused senses, faster decision-making, improved mental function and increased strength¹.

But these benefits only manifest themselves after plenty of practice and personal emotional mastery. Instructors can easily start this process by incorporating stress inoculation into law enforcement training, beginning with the physiological stress. One way is through loud noises, complicated instructions and other forms of distraction.

Another method of adding stress includes competitions. Competitions introduce stress for everyone involved: those more skilled find stress in the thought of losing to someone less skilled. Trainees who are equally skilled become stressed in the race to win. And those who are less skilled experience stress in wanting to beat a more skilled opponent.

Besides noise, complicated instructions (complex goals) and competitions, instructors can add stress physiologically through force-on-force, Simunitions™ and peer grading. While the physiological is a great start, stress is best recreated with the thought of a physical consequence. Training without fear of a physical consequence causes trainees to ignore potential threats, thus adopting dangerous training habits. But when there is a perceived threat and potential harm, a trainee’s behavior changes significantly.

It is the perception of personal risk that creates the proper stress response required for stress inoculation training. This perception can come from multiple areas: being struck while wearing impact reduction suits in arrest and control training or even use of force on force training methods.

Threat-Fire Training

This psychological effect inspired VirTra to create the Threat-Fire®, a small electric impulse device that provides immediate consequences during training. Upon clipping the device onto their clothing, trainees understand the potential personal harm and are thus immersed in a stress-induced environment.

Instructors can use this device to supply negative consequences representing threats to the officer’s safety, such as gunfire, explosions or dog attacks. Not only does this allow for stress inoculation, it supplies realistic, scenario-applicable consequences to trainees.

Beyond adding psychological stress, the Threat-Fire increases simulation training realism by completing the interaction loop. Trainees can engage with simulated suspects who are able to physically engage back, changing one-sided interaction to a full circle.

This ties back to the idea of perceived threat. When interacting with an on-screen character, it becomes easy to disregard the dangerous situation shown on screen. But with the addition of a consequence device, the suspect can “shoot back,” closing the interaction loop and increasing the notion of a threat.

Stress is a powerful psychological tool that, when used correctly, will prepare trainees to perform effectively in tense situations of the field. Proper implementation helps teach stress inoculation, allowing trainees to learn critical skills that transfer to the field. Learn more about how VirTra’s simulators can teach your trainees stress inoculation by contacting a VirTra specialist.

  1. Kliem, Von. “New Study Tracks Officers’ Response to Stress During Calls for Service.” Force Science 7 Nov. 2019.

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