Tunnel Vision Impact on Police
Category: Law Enforcement
Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol. And Today’s Tip deals with hyper-focus; more commonly known as ‘tunnel vision’.
Tunnel vision can result in a tendency for us to focus our mental faculties on the main facet of a stressful event, while virtually ignoring the possibility of additional threats.
We’ve all heard of tunnel vision, which is basically the loss of our peripheral vision, brought on by the fight-or-flight response. Studies indicate it is a common side-effect of the survival-stress response and that we can experience up to a 70% decrease in our ability to see things in the periphery.
Tunnel vision affects us cognitively as well. Tunnel vision can result in a tendency for us to focus our mental faculties on the main facet of a stressful event, while virtually ignoring the possibility of additional threats.
In his book ‘Processing Under Pressure: Stress, Memory and Decision-making in Law Enforcement’, Professor Matthew Joseph Sharps explains that the human brain in its current form is somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 years old and still operates in the same manner today as it did back then. As a result, an officer may respond to a situation today the way our ancestors did tens-of-thousands of years ago, focusing on the center of a given situation, without adequate attention to the periphery. The problem lies in the fact that thousands of years ago, the periphery wasn’t as dangerous as it can be today.
While thousands of years ago hyper-focus may have helped a hunter keep his eye on the prize and worked to ensure a successful hunt, today, focusing on one bad guy can be at the cost of missing the other one waiting for us in the corner of the room. It can mean missing pre-assault cues on a suspect because we’re too focused on what we’re trying to do rather than paying attention to his furtive movements.
Although we can’t take away those traits that are part of our DNA, we can take steps to minimize their negative impact by understanding what they are and taking the weaknesses into account when developing strategies that make us more effective and safer when performing our duties.
And that is Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Gordon Graham signing off.