DUST: Decisions Under Stress Training - A Biofeedback Training in Virtual Reality for police officers

Project Lead Category Project status
Abele Michela Behavior Regulation Writing Dissertation

The work of a police officer can be seen as an evolutionary paradox: in places and situations where most people would fall prey to survival instincts of self-preservation, police officers ought to act calm, with proportionality and benevolence. This is why police officers need to train control over their responses to threat as much as possible. To enable this, we develop a virtual training environment with real-time biofeedback. We combine virtual reality and biofeedback to create a personalized, realistic training experience, while honing state-of-the-art technology and psychophysical theory.

Project team


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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 base our work on studies evaluating which patterns in heart rate, breathing, and brain activity are predictive of mistakes under threat. We used this knowledge to develop a training game in VR, where a player can practice to control their behavioral responses to threatening situations. 

To elicit a genuine sense of challenge (and sometimes threat), we decided to stay away from realistic reconstructions of "real-life" policing situations as those tend to be costy, complex and usually give the user a sense of incompleteness and uncannyness. A game-like environment, in our case a zombie shooter, proved more efficient to both train the physiological control of police trainers in stressful context and also extract meaningful behavioral metrics. The feedback provided to the player about their physiological state, implemented as a restriction of the visual field, has already proven its efficacy in training physiological control. Additionally, this new learned skill has been shown to transfer to contexts where biofeedback was not presented to the player. 

Police trainers have rated this training as very challenging and engaging. Moreover, 80% of them indicated that they would want to use DUST or similar products in their own teaching. 

Made in Collaboration with EPAN Lab



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    Brammer, J. C., van Peer, J. M., Michela, A., van Rooij, M. M. J. W., Oostenveld, R., Klumpers, F., Dorrestijn, W., Granic, I., & Roelofs, K. (2021). Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 586553. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.586553

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  • Reducing the Noise of Reality

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Project team

Abele Michela title=
Abele Michela
Researcher at GEMH Lab

Phd student working on a training program for Dutch Police incorporating Virtual Reality and Biofeedback.


PhD-Candidate at Radboud University


E-mail Abele

Jan Brammer title=
Jan Brammer

Brains, bytes, and bikes.




E-mail Jan

Karin Roelofs title=
Karin Roelofs

Professor of Experimental Psychopathology at the Behavioural Science Institute (BSI) and chair of the PI-group “Affective Neuroscience” at the Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging (DCCN), Radboud University. Director of the EPAN Lab (www.epanlab.nl)




E-mail Karin

Jacobien van Peer title=
Jacobien van Peer

My research focuses on motivational processes, specifically emotional information processing and action tendencies, and the neurobiological and brain mechanisms underlying these processes and their role in psychopathology and maladaptive behaviour.


Assistant Professor


E-mail Jacobien

Erik van den Berge title=
Erik van den Berge
GEMH Sessions Producer

Game developer, VR-guru, mocap artist, animator, video editor, and all-round problem solver. Avid gamer, movie lover and knowledge sponge.


Multimedia Designer at Radboud University


E-mail Erik

Isabela Granic title=
Isabela Granic
Director of GEMH Lab

Professor and Chair of the Developmental Psychopathology department in the Behavioural Science Institute; writer; voracious podcast consumer; mother of two upstanding little gamers


Professor at McMaster's University & Co-founder of PlayNice Interactive


E-mail Isabela