Effects of anxiety on handgun shooting behavior of police officers: a pilot study

Anxiety Stress Coping. 2010;23(2):225-33. doi: 10.1080/10615800902977494.


The current pilot study aimed at providing an initial assessment of how anxiety influences police officers' shooting behavior. Seven police officers participated and completed an identical shooting exercise under two experimental conditions: low anxiety, against a non-threatening opponent, and high anxiety (HA), against a threatening opponent who occasionally shot back using colored soap cartridges. Measurements included shooting accuracy, movement times, head/body orientation, and blink behavior. Results showed that under HA, shooting accuracy decreased. Underlying this degradation of performance, participants acted faster and made themselves smaller to reduce the chance of being hit. Furthermore, they blinked more often, leading to increases in the amount of time participants had their eyes closed. Findings provide support for attentional control theory, hereby also pointing to possible interventions to improve police officers' shooting performance under pressure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Female
  • Firearms* / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Police* / standards
  • Police* / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Young Adult