From the way we perceive, recognize, and respond to a threat to how that stress affects our performance, there is a science behind every human reaction and perception. To better understand optimum training and tactics, it is important to understand the science behind human performance as well.

It is beneficial for instructors to know how the brain processes and uses information. This information is what directs the body to perform in a certain way. By studying these processes even at surface level, the complexity of decision making in policework becomes apparent. It can help foster better training habits to recognize how the mind works with the body.


When we get information from the environment through sight, sound, etc., our minds process it. Both the information and the interpretation of it are the two vital parts of perception.

Perception can be altered if the information is of a lower quality – such as an excess of or lack of light or sound from the environment. If your focus of attention is elsewhere or non-existent, it interferes with perception. Additionally, arousal can heighten your ability to perceive.

Schema is another possible obstacle to perception. Schemas are models used to organize knowledge and categorize certain things and situations. This is what allows us to recognize events quickly in the world. For example, imagine a subject drawing a weapon. Some may imagine a person pulling a gun from the hip area. However, there are other objects besides a gun that can be removed from the hip area. A phone or a wallet, for example.

Reaction and Response Time

When a person hears and/or sees a stimulus, it takes time for the brain to process and interpret that information before an action is performed. You must also account for the time it takes to move to complete that action. Many things can lengthen the time between perception and response.

This process is vital for officers and instructors to understand, as it relates to the commonly used “split-second decision making” described in policework.  It is also where decision training comes into play and considering what types of training foster correct decisions and fast responses.

Think of how parts of many firearms training courses work. A buzzer goes off, and the officer shoots a target. This is a great example of a stimulus eliciting a response; however, it is not the pattern that officer involved shootings follow. This is where officers should be trained in evaluating before responding – not just relying on stimuli.

Stress and Arousal

Stress is different for everyone. Sometimes it comes from chaos, sometimes from an event perceived as frightening. It tends to happen to officers particularly when their safety is at stake. Stress increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate while also making you more tense.

Arousal relates more to heightened senses and readiness to act. You have likely heard of the “fight, flight, freeze, fawn” responses – these are initiated by arousal. Arousal can increase performance to a certain point – and it depends on whether the task is cognitive-based or strength-based. Having lower arousal is better during a cognitive task such as chess, but higher is better for a strength or endurance task like wrestling.

When keeping stress and arousal in mind – imagine how they may affect an officer during a tense situation.

Human Factors in Force Encounters

Due to the high importance of this topic, VirTra developed a 7-hour NCP-certified course based on groundbreaking research such as the work done by Force Science. “Human Factors in Force Encounters” includes in-depth information pertaining to the information above while fostering decision making by providing 7 modules of drills to be completed in the VirTra simulator. It intertwines classroom learning and practice in a simulated environment.

If you are interested in starting your simulation training journey with VirTra, contact a specialist.

The human brain is a complex system that allows us to focus our attention, process information, generate responses, and carry out behaviors. These processes are critical to our ability to perform various tasks and interact and perform within the world around us. Officers must rely on this to make rapid and high-impact decisions daily. Anxiety can significantly impact our cognitive processing and attentional control, ultimately affecting our performance. In this article, we will explore the mechanisms involved in cognitive processing, attentional control, and the impact of anxiety on these systems.

What Does Anxiety Do?

Anxiety can have a significant impact on performance by interfering with attentional processing and altering the neural mechanisms involved in cognitive processing. It increases distractibility, decreases the ability to focus selectively on important information, and generates negative thoughts and emotions that distract from the task at hand. Anxiety has also been shown to activate the amygdala, which processes emotional information and interferes with the normal functioning of the prefrontal cortex. This can lead to increased sensitivity to errors and decreased performance.

How Training in a Simulated Environment Can Help

The VirTra simulators provide a critical, experimental, controlled environment where we can develop confidence in our skills and coping strategies to negate anxiety. The Behavior Analysis Threat Recognition course is a perfect example. This NCP-certified course provides the ability to increase the difficulty and threat to match the participant level. Instructors can continue to push it or back it down if needed. This allows for techniques such as positive self-talk, cyclic sighing, or forced attentional drive to be honed.

The neural mechanisms involved in cognitive processing and attentional control play a critical role in our ability to perform various tasks and interact with the world. Anxiety can significantly impact performance by altering these systems. Understanding how anxiety affects attentional and cognitive processes is essential for developing strategies to mitigate its negative impact on performance. The VirTra simulators provide a highly flexible and adaptable tool to build the mitigation skills.

Traumatic stress impacts memory. We tend to consider this when we investigate violent crimes such as sexual assault. We have evolved in our interviewing process with victims through techniques of trauma-informed interviewing, cognitive interviewing, and forensic interviewing. This growth has allowed us to better understand the considerations involved in memory, recall, and perspective.

We used to ask victims of sexual assaults horrifying questions: What were you wearing? Did you say no? Did you fight back…no? Why not? Tell me what he looked like. You can’t? Why can’t you describe him to me? We caught the guy who raped you…why didn’t you tell me he had tattoos all over his face?


What changed?

We did. We were not serving victims and survivors in the best manner possible. We learned, grew, and evolved in our craft to provide grounded and compassionate care within the investigative process.


What did we learn?

We learned that information gathered during an interview can be compromised by flawed interviewing, questioning, or interrogation practices.(1) Interviews that are structured chronologically, in a directive manner, comprised primarily of close ended questions, and conducted by multiple individuals do not fall within best practices. We learned that leading questions raise concerns in almost any interview as they tend to suggest their own answer. Interviewers and investigators may experience “leading question bias” where the interviewer directs the question toward the answer they want or what they subjectively think to be true.

We learned that when an individual experiences an overwhelming or traumatic event, there should be protocols in place to protect the individual from additional trauma during the interview process. Trauma-informed interviewing allows for a non-threatening, conversational approach that avoids interrogation methods.(2) Cognitive interviewing is structured to enhance memory recall and minimize memory confabulation. There is a misperception in law enforcement investigations that an individual with a lack of linear memory is deliberately lying. We have now learned that a lack of linear memory can be a sign of trauma.

We learned a person’s frame of mind and amount of sleep impact memory consolidation and recall. Sleep is essential for memory formation and consolidation.(3) Unconsolidated memory is fragile and can be disrupted by various types of interference. Two sleep cycles may be necessary for memory consolidation to occur.(4) During an overwhelming event that activates an acute stress response, there is a loss or reduction in the functioning of the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This impacts our executive function, or what would be basic reasoning, weighing of options for decision-making, emotional regulation, impulse control, access to working memory, and memory consolidation.

After a traumatic experience, intentional and unintentional remembering can introduce new details that, over time, assimilate into a person’s memory for the event.(5)  Studies show that individuals can experience events that they have not in reality experienced.(6) This is known as confabulation.

Confabulation is a type of memory error in which gaps in a person’s memory are unconsciously filled with fabricated, misinterpreted, or distorted information.(7) The most common type of confabulation is provoked confabulation which occurs when someone creates an untrue story in response to a specific question. It is critical to recognize that there is no deliberate attempt to lie or provide false information.

Memory conformity may present when two people see the same event and discuss it and one person’s memory influences what the other person claims to remember.(8) Memory conformity can occur from a discussion or conversation, reading a review of another person’s incident perspective, or from watching a video of the event.

These are just a few of the things we have discovered over the years to better serve victims of violent crime. But my question to you is this: Why are we not bringing these practices to investigations when officers experience critical incidents?

We should all agree from a macro view that critical incidents are traumatic stress events. The difference in how a traumatic event is processed is the micro level of an individual’s coping skills, ability to tolerate stressors, and support system (to name just a few).

We have evolved in our support of victims who experience violence, let’s continue that evolution to include our officers.



  1. Gehl, R. & Plecas, D. (2016). Introduction to Criminal Investigation: Processes, Practices and Thinking. New Westminster, BC: Justice Institute of British Columbia.
  2. Flores, L. & Phelps, K. (2017). Trauma Informed Interviewing Techniques Best Practices for Working with Trauma Survivors. Biannual Asylum Law Seminar.
  3. Klinzing J., Niethard, N., Born, J. (2019). Mechanisms of systems memory consolidation during sleep. Nat Neurosci 2019 Oct;22(10):1598-1610
  4. McGaugh J. (2000). Memory–a century of consolidation. Science. 2000 Jan 14;287(5451):248-51. doi: 10.1126/science.287.5451.248. PMID: 10634773
  5. Strange, D., & Takarangi, M. K. (2015). Memory distortion for traumatic events: the role of mental imagery. Frontiers in psychiatry6, 27.
  6. British Psychology Society Research Board Working Group (2008). Guidelines on memory and the law: recommendations from the scientific study of human memory. British Psychological Society
  7. Triviño M, Ródenas E, Lupiáñez J, Arnedo M (2017). Effectiveness of a neuropsychological treatment for confabulations after brain injury: A clinical trial with theoretical implications. PLoS ONE 12(3): e0173166.
  8. Gabbert F, Memon A, Wright DB. Memory conformity: disentangling the steps toward influence during a discussion. Psychon Bull Rev. 2006 Jun;13(3):480-5. doi: 10.3758/bf03193873. PMID: 17048734.

One of the biggest mistakes an instructor can make during any training that focuses on judgmental use of force is to limit the scenario to one officer. While officer involved shootings often do involve only one officer, the training provided shouldn’t focus only on such a possibility. The reality on the street is that there is a possibility that multiple officers will be involved. Unfortunately, the truth is that when multiple officers are involved, if one makes a mistake, others might follow due to a lack of understanding of the full circumstances or out of instinct.

The place to identify such potential misunderstandings and mistakes is in training evolutions. You can’t do that if you only put one officer at a time through scenario-based training simulations. Just like we see on the “square range” where officers are put in static positions to shoot paper targets without movement or threat, putting a single officer through projected simulation training is akin to checking off the right box on an administrative checklist for training. “State required annual judgmental shooting training: check.” That’s not training; that’s administrative fulfillment. Training prepares officers for the real world and how to avoid mistakes that can cost lives.

It’s also a mistake to assume that all projected simulation scenario-based training involves judgmental shooting or use-of-force type training. Training simulation has developed to empower de-escalation training skills as well. With a given simulation system such as the V-300®, you can teach basic firearms marksmanship, judgmental use of force and de-escalation training.

After-Action Reports

True training (as opposed to administrative requirement fulfillment) requires putting officers in dynamic, fluid yet controlled situations where more than one behavior or skill can be provoked and tested, followed by a review of the training evolution. To perform an accurate After-Action Review (AAR) of any training evolution, the best tool you can have is a recording – both audio and video – of the training incident as it evolved. This allows the instructor(s) to pause the recording in debrief to specify behaviors or skills that were either appropriate or need to be corrected. It’s been said that approximately 75% of all learning occurs during the AAR as opposed to the 25% that occurs while officers are actually going through the training evolution(s).

Additionally, the training environment should be created to mimic the actual operational environment as closely as possible. That means that projected simulation is only one part of the training. It is the centerpiece that is “decorated” by role players as bad guys, injured civilians, obstacles, sound pollution (noise) and unexpected sights/visuals. The single largest limitation on properly performed projected simulation training is your imagination. Further, if the projected simulation can saturate the trainee’s situational environment to a greater degree, then the training is of greater value. That means that it’s beneficial to have a system that surrounds the officer as much as possible as compared to having a single projected screen in front of the officer. “Surround simulation” if you will, requires greater awareness and interaction from the officer being trained.

Defining Responsibilities

With an understanding all of the above, planning your training is critical. You need to know what your setting will be and how much you can modify it as well as how many instructors and role players you will have available. Any officer who is going to be a role player needs to be carefully choreographed. They need to have a very clear understanding of their purpose in drawing out the desired behaviors and/or skills of the officers going through the training evolution. The role players need to be carefully controlled so they don’t improvise in any manner that may detract from the training value of the scenario.

All of the responsibilities need to be clearly defined for the entire training staff. From the exercise controller (lead Instructor) to the Safety Officer to the Role Players, each participant needs to know their roles. Trainers need to establish who will be responsible for capturing each training evolution for use in the AARs?

The lead instructor, with assistance and inputs from the assistant instructors, should develop the training scenarios, effectively designing each simulation to include a full list of the desired behavioral objects, skill objectives, judgmental objectives, etc. All training objectives and desired behaviors should be clearly defined as benchmarks for each evolution. Any changes that occur to the setting between evolutions should be outlined. This is important as we all know students who go through the scenario will immediately tell the other students what they experienced, thereby setting up expectations. Being able to thwart those expectations adds to the unpredictable nature of each scenario.

As each student, pair of students or group of students goes through a training evolution, the immediate AAR should be limited to the “big” items that need to be corrected and/or positively reinforced. Both offer learning moments and should be utilized. AARs should never be purely negative. Corrections for deficiencies as well as praise for proper performance should be included. That said, immediately following a scenario, the major items of correction/praise should be reviewed. All other in-depth and detailed AAR items should be saved for later in a classroom. It’s important to remember that the entire group of students, not just those going through a particular scenario, can learn from the AAR of other scenarios.

Adding Stress to Simulation Training

One of the biggest learning tools for any projected simulation scenario-based training is adding stress. Some “shoot back” systems offer a pain penalty as they can hit the student with a non-lethal projectile if proper cover isn’t used. The downside of such shoot back systems is that a material that is NOT cover but is instead merely concealment can stop the projectile. Such an event actually serves to reinforce an improper behavior: seeking cover behind insufficient material…using concealment as cover. This is a mistake that can be life-threatening in the real world and should be avoided in training situations. The system used should allow the instructor to deliver the penalty in such situations.

VirTra’s V-Threat-Fire® allows for instructors to deliver a penalty without having to worry about aiming a shoot-back system first. Additionally, it includes a greatly reduced risk of personal injury and no clean up after the simulation is completed.

Finally, while most projected simulation training scenarios focus on a single behavior as the major pass/fail point (shoot / don’t shoot as the example), the situations and scenarios that lead up to that point are vast and, if used properly, can allow the instructor to evaluate a host of trainee behavioral objectives. Instructors who teach conflict resolution may be familiar with Boyd’s decision-making cycle: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (often referred to as OODA loops because they are repeated until conflict is resolved). While many instructors use projected simulation-based training to evaluate the ‘Act’ step of that cycle, the more important Observe, Orient and Decide steps can be evaluated and critiqued if the simulation is used to its full potential. Instructors should realize that most student officers make mistakes in the decision making that leads up to their action. The action might be correct based on their observations, orientation and decision, but if they’ve made mistakes in their observation or made an incorrect decision, how do you correct that? Through a properly performed AAR supported by the audio/video playback of a scenario.

Not all projected simulation scenario equipment supports all of the necessities to deliver training as outlined above. For more information on systems that do, feel free to reach out to a product specialist.

Originally published on

Humans have a strong drive to protect their own lives – and to a greater degree – that of their offspring. How do you get peace officers to overcome their own self-preservation drives to go help others? The bigger question is: How do you get them comfortable with being in those life-ending situations and allow them to cognitively work through the challenges they are going to face? Creative problem solving is compromised with high levels of sympathetic nervous system arousal, which is part of the fight, flight, freeze, posture, or submit response we see in humans. An illustration of this comes from Mike Tyson’s quote, “Everyone has a plan until you punch them in the mouth.”

How do you get peace officers comfortable in life-or-death situations and mitigate them from being overwhelmed with the negative effects? Simply, you have to put them in events just like these and get them comfortable being there. Put them repeatedly in situations that simulate the threat to their mortality. The question is how?

One path to this is to train jujitsu. I specifically name jujitsu because the goal of this martial art is to place your opponent’s body – or parts of it – in a position that could cause them to lose consciousness or break a limb. Hold it long enough and the person can die. Participating in jujitsu places you in a position where someone else is intentionally positioning themselves to injure or even kill you. You have to learn early on how to navigate between being in danger and being close to danger – there is a difference. Having someone’s arm around your neck ready to restrict the flow of oxygenated blood as they are trying to get it into the right position using pressure that will surely cause you to pass out, and being comfortable with that, is a learned skill. Learning to be that close to danger and be able to maintain composure and the ability to problem solve occurs with many repetitions of being in that situation.

The VirTra simulators are another way to produce contextually rich environments that threaten the safety of the participants. The context comes from the high-quality filming of the characters in realistic environments, and the threat to safety comes from the V-Threat-Fire®. The V-Threat-Fire is paired with an on-screen threat such as a gunshot, stabbing, explosion, etc. If an officer does not mitigate the risk to their safety, the device is activated and the electric shock causes pain. A threat action can occur on-screen at any point, and if you do not stop it, you will feel the sting of the V-Threat-Fire. Similar to the need to block an arm to prevent a choke: miss it, and its tap-out or blackout.

We need to do more than just stress exposure. We need to do stress inoculation which includes the development of coping strategies and skills under threat conditions. This is missed in law enforcement. Do you want them to get used to going into harm’s way and be able to do it when called upon? Then you have to provide the type of training and the frequency of training that conditions this response. This is a perishable skill that needs ongoing reinforcement.

When coming out of a training event that is meant to depict a real-life crisis situation, law enforcement officers should not feel relaxed as if it was a walk in the park. Truly realistic training will get your heart rate up as you go through stressful scenarios with unexpected outcomes – similar to what happens in real life when law enforcement officers enter an unpredictable crisis.

The point is that training needs to be taken seriously, not treated like a video game. With realistic on-screen characters, accurate marksmanship and true-to-life training points, cadets realize that it is serious training. This is why VirTra’s video-based scenarios are filmed in 4K with real people instead of computer-generated images (CGI). CGI that is commonly seen in older simulator programs and virtual reality headsets depict characters that don’t show the same subtle nuances and facial expressions as real people. While the latest movies have shown that CGI has come a very long way, it is not there yet in terms of being an effective method of training.

How VirTra Clients See a Difference

Lowell Police Department in Massachusetts have recently begun the use of an immersive VirTra V-300® five-screen simulator thanks to the help of grant money. An article in the Lowell Sun discussed Lowell PD’s use of the new technology, how it helps officers and why it is an important method of training. Police Superintendent Kelly Richardson let reporters know how trainees react when placed in the simulator and how it has caused stress responses.

“It’s so real, they’re sweating, the whole nine yards and afterwards they say after something like ‘this is exhausting.’ They actually check their heart rates when they’re done,” Richardson said. The article noted that during an active threat scenario, officers at Lowell PD have shown reactions indicating an adrenaline response.

Another law enforcement member of Lowell PD, Officer Ramos, thought the simulator would be more like a video game. Ramos was surprised to see that the “scenarios resemble the calls he has been dispatched to over his 16 years as an officer” according to the same article.

To learn more about how VirTra can help your agency take training seriously while obtaining necessary skills, contact a product specialist.

As you have likely heard, VirTra is launching the new V-Threat-Fire®: the third generation of consequence-inducing simulation accessories! This device is incredibly powerful, delivering vibrations or electric impulses to simulate return fire, dog bites, explosions or other threats in the training simulator.

The reason VirTra focuses on creating realistic consequence devices is because of the stress or the arousal state it creates. An officer’s critical decision-making and problem-solving skills become muddled in stress-filled atmospheres. This continues to happen until the officer learns the skills involved with stress inoculation. However, learning to control one’s reactions to stress and minimizing its effects takes time. And if the training environment doesn’t provide stress, then an officer must try to learn stress inoculation in the field—a dangerous, difficult practice.

The Psychological Effect

The V-Threat-Fire is a small accessory that attaches to the trainee’s belt. Knowing that this device can release strong vibrations or electric impulses immediately immerses trainees in a stress-induced environment. This provides a critical aspect to stress inoculation.

Instructors have great control as to what kind of stress to provide, as this device can emit impulses from 0.2 to 1 second from up to 50ft away. The V-Threat-Fire is activated via the Instructor’s Station, so instructors can completely devote their attention to training as trainees move around the simulator.

In addition to adding psychological stress, V-Threat-Fire increases realism by completing the interaction loop. Trainees engage with simulated subjects, who are now able to safely physically engage back, changing one-sided interaction to a full circle. Instructors can supply that interaction through the shocks or vibrations of the V-Threat-Fire, prompting trainees to take training more seriously.

Getting Started with V-Threat-Fire

Stress is a powerful psychological tool. When created by V-Threat-Fire, can prepare trainees to perform effectively in difficult situations in the field. Proper implementation helps teach stress inoculation, preparing officers for life in the field.

To learn more about using V-Threat-Fire in conjunction with your training simulator, contact a VirTra specialist. Or watch the video below:

Everyone has experienced a stressful situation before, even those outside of the law enforcement field. Stress can be caused by a verbal argument, a heavy workload at your job or even a traffic jam on the way home. Stress and its influence on arousal are two factors that can greatly influence your performance on the job, particularly as a law enforcement officer during a force encounter.

Both stress and arousal can help or hinder various aspects of performance, but the two are not the same. Stress can occur when the perceived demands of an event exceed one’s perceived ability to meet those demands. Stress is expressed physical arousal in the form of increased heart rate, blood pressure and breathing patterns. Too much stress can limit one’s ability to recall an event.

The purpose of arousal, is the act of stimulating readiness. Your senses become “prepared” to the point of perception. It affects the regulation of consciousness, attention and alertness. In fact, the common “fight, flight and freeze” responses are initiated by arousal.

The Yerkes-Dodson Law

The Yerkes-Dodson Law specifically relates to arousal and is characterized by its “Inverted U” graph. This law “suggests that there is a relationship between performance and arousal” (Cherry, 2020). Lower arousal is better for cognitive tasks, while high arousal is better for strength and endurance-related events. Essentially, arousal can improve performance, but if arousal climbs too high, it can begin to hinder it. As the graph above shows, there is an apex where peak performance can be achieved.

So how does this relate back to the law enforcement field? It is important to know how stress affects you personally and how it can compound with arousal, and the best way to find out is during training sessions. Higher arousal can affect perception; it allows people to focus on pieces of events that the brain deems important to survival, but it does so at the detriment to other parts of the event. By practicing in a VirTra police training simulator, you can learn how stress and arousal contribute to your memory of events and performance. Training tools that induce stress such as the Threat-Fire® can provide stress and consequences within a safe environment, letting you learn to work through situations under pressure.

To learn more about human factors, customers have free access to the Human Factors in Force Encounters V-VICTA™ curriculum. This IADLEST-certified course includes a lesson plan, slide show presentation, course materials and more to teach officers the science behind our reactions during force encounters. Additionally, the content was authored by not only VirTra’s in-house subject matter experts, but based on the ground breaking work of Force Science Institute’s Executive Director and Co-Founder Dr. William Lewinsky.

To learn how to get this content, please contact a product specialist.


Cherry, K. (2020, May 10). The Yerkes-Dodson Law and Performance. Retrieved from Very Well Mind:

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.

Stress is an essential addition to a trainee’s regime. Critical decision-making and problem solving become more difficult in a stress-induced atmosphere and requires plenty of practice to learn how to navigate these situations. If a law enforcement trainee cannot learn to execute the correct actions in a controlled environment, what are the chances they will in the unpredictable environment of the field?

There are multiple ways to introduce stress. However, keep in mind that these stressors should only be added after trainees are competent in the desired action or rule. Failure to understand a technique before the pressure is added will only result in confusion.

Motivation During Simulation Training

Administering pain, or threatening to, causes trainees to become anxious and compliant. Instructors can use this to their advantage, as physical pain removes the resistance of “I have to.” Use of force training is filled with commands which leaves students thinking “I have to complete this scenario” rather than “I am excited to learn from and engage in this scenario”.

Physical pain replaces this resistance with motivation while adding an extra layer of stress. Pain forces trainees to become engaged with the training scenario and teaches them to complete the exercise while overcoming the distraction due to the perceived risk of pain.

VirTra’s use of force simulations offer a pain element through the Threat-Fire®, a small box that clips onto a trainee’s belt. When activated by the instructor, the Threat-Fire releases a small electronic impulse that adds real-world consequences to the simulations. This effectively adds stress and emotion to the wearer while enhancing the effectiveness of simulation training.

Fear of Failure

Instructors can use their trainee’s fear of failure to their advantage. People are painfully familiar with negative emotions caused by failing—disappointment, anger, frustration, sadness—and strive to avoid these emotions. Add this to the idea of failing in front of peers and more negative emotions are added—embarrassment, shame—another avoidance.

Start by having trainees perform an exercise in front of their peers and watch as the added pressure sparks fear, motivation or anxiety. Overcoming this fear requires a significant amount of practice for both trainees and instructors, as instructors must learn to work with reactions ranging from forgetfulness to confidence.

Fear of failure comes with other training benefits. Continuing with the idea of performing in front of a class, students in the audience are inspired to learn from the mistakes and correct choices of those who have gone before. As students make the conscious decision to perform a certain way, even if it is to avoid embarrassment in front of an audience, the lesson is better remembered.

Simulator Training & Competition

Using competition as a stress-inducer is tricky, as the amount of stress created depends on the student. The goal of training competitions is to force trainees to focus on and complete a situation, to master corresponding physical and mental skills, with the added pressure to perform better than a competitor. The problem is that some trainees thrive in competition whereas others become flustered.

The type of pressure built also depends on the type of competition. Will the winner be the student who completes a scenario the quickest or the one who does a better job overall? If time is of the ultimate essence, students may forget a step as they race to the end. On the other hand, the stress of knowing they must follow a checklist of instructions perfectly, heightened by a competition, may cause forgetfulness. Practice placing trainees in a variety of competitions so they learn from different types of stress.

Stress and heightened emotion are powerful tools in the classroom. These components ensure trainees understand how to perform in the high-emotion situations they may face in the field. VirTra simulations are a great resource for adding stress while teaching students through a variety of situational outcomes. Contact us to learn more.

Train hard, stay safe and keep it consistent.