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Testing the impact of physiological stress response on police performance during critical job tasks

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To add to the existing body of knowledge on the relationship between stress and job performance in policing, we monitored police officers' physiology using Hexoskin shirts while they responded to simulated scenarios.


We employed mixed repeated measures (baseline, intervention, post-intervention), between groups (treatment vs control group) design. Using this approach, our aims were (1) to determine whether an individualized physiological stress profile—a combination of heart rate (HR), heart rate variability (HRV), sympathetic nervous system (SNS) index and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) index—could be developed for each participant; (2) to investigate the association between physiological stress and scenario performance and (3) to pilot test an intervention for decreasing physiological stress in real time.


We found that it was possible to individualize physiological stress profiles for each participant that alerted us when the participant was becoming stressed. We also found that physiological stress was significantly and negatively/inversely associated with scenario performance. However, our intervention to try and decrease participants' stress in real time was not successful. Several key lessons can be taken from our attempt that could inform future efforts in this area.

Research limitations/implications

This was a small pilot study, precluding generalizability of results. Furthermore, our intervention was simplistic and potentially affected by an experimenter effect. Future research should explore better ways to intervene when officers are becoming physiologically stressed to help them overcome stress in real time and safeguard against the cumulative effects of stress on health and performance.


This research adds to the body of knowledge on physiological stress and job-task performance in police officers.

Keywords: PTSD risk; Performance; Police decision-making; Stress; Vigilance

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: College of Nursing, Washington State University, Vancouver, Washington, USA 2: Provicta, Plymouth, Minnesota, USA

Publication date: December 30, 2020

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