Understanding Police Performance Under Stress: Insights From the Biopsychosocial Model of Challenge and Threat.

Academic Article


  • We examine when and how police officers may avoid costly errors under stress by leveraging theoretical and empirical work on the biopsychosocial (BPS) model of challenge and threat. According to the BPS model, in motivated performance contexts (e.g., test taking, athletics), the evaluation of situational and task demands in relation to one's perceived resources available to cope with those demands engenders distinct patterns of peripheral physiological responding. Individuals experience more challenge-like states in which blood circulates more efficiently in the periphery when they evaluate their coping resources as meeting or exceeding the task demands. Conversely, individuals experience more threat-like states in which blood circulates less efficiently in the periphery when they view the situation or task demands as exceeding their coping resources. Patterns of response consistent with challenge and threat states have been shown to predict important performance and decision-making outcomes in stressful contexts, and repeated experiences of threat-like patterns of physiological activity are thought to have detrimental effects on long-term cardiovascular health. To date, however, research has not used the biopsychosocial model to understand police decision-making under stress. Here, we review relevant empirical work from the perspective of the BPS model concerning how minority status and power can shape challenge and threat responding and contribute to decision-making under stress. We then detail a research agenda aimed at improving the translational value of research being conducted within the BPS model for understanding complex performance and decision-making in the real world, including among law enforcement personnel.
  • Authors

  • Kelley, Donovan C
  • Siegel, Erika
  • Wormwood, Jolie
  • Publication Date

  • 2019
  • Published In


  • biopsychosocial
  • challenge
  • police
  • shootings
  • threat
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • 1800
  • Volume

  • 10