An Examination of Inattentional Blindness in Law Enforcement in High Stress Situations

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Inattentional blindness, or the inability to visually detect an unexpected stimulus while attending to a task or situation, can have detrimental effects on those who are subject to the phenomenon. This may be particularly true for law enforcement officers, who are often engaged in cognitively demanding tasks that draw their attention away from potentially deadly hazards. This study was designed to look at the effects of inattentional blindness within a group of officers with varying degrees of experience and expertise. The officers were presented with a video-based scenario in which an unexpected stimulus was placed. The control group was asked to attend to a general task, while the experimental group was asked to attend to a specific and more demanding task. Within the context of an active shooter situation, the officers’ ability to detect a large black suitcase in a hallway during the video was assessed. Overall rates of unexpected stimuli detection was consistent with existing literature, however detection of the scene-relevant stimulus was lower than expected.



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Law Enforcement Executive Forum