We do not perform at our best when we’re in highly stressful or even threatening situations: our actions are more impulsive and less deliberate. This is especially problematic for police officers, who are expected to perform responsibly and rationally in the face of threat, without exception. Their actions are scrutinized by the public, and their mistakes can have harmful consequences for others. This is why police officers need to train control over their responses to threat as much as possible. Since this kind of training is costly (in terms of time and personnel) we want to develop a low-cost training tool that offers the possibility to practice controlled responses to threatening situations with real-time feedback. To achieve this, we combine virtual reality (VR) and biofeedback to create a personalized, realistic training experience, while honing state-of-the-art technology and psychophysical theory.
We believe that the decline of performance under threat is to a large extend explained by a sub-optimal physiological state. Therefore, we will study which patterns in heart rate, skin conductance, breathing, and brain activity are predictive of mistakes under threat. We will then use this knowledge to develop a training game in VR, where a player can practice to control their behavioral responses to threatening situations. These situations will be representative of police reality, for example, the player could be confronted with an armed, aggressive citizen. In the training game, the player’s physiology will be monitored continuously, and they will be alerted if their physiological reaction falls into the previously identified suboptimal state. Alerting the player to their internal state is the essence of our biofeedback training, and we will investigate if players subsequently succeed in counteracting their sub-optimal physiological reactions.
Eventually, after the player has been prepared by means of the training game, we will test if the biofeedback results in behavioral performance improvements. In other words, we will assess if those players who are aware of their physiological reaction to threat, and try to regulate their arousal, make less mistakes in handling stressful situations. We will test the effect of biofeedback by sending the player on a virtual patrol, where they encounter several threatening situations that require fast and accurate responses.