Max Mental Simulation Results

For training purposes, is it better to teach recruits and officers to visualize and mentally rehearse the desired outcome or the event? The answer may surprise you.

Great athletes get this. They may dream about standing on the Olympic medal stand or signing a multi-million dollar professional contract. But they visualize - over and over and over again - the events it takes to get them that desired outcome.

  • The skier visualizes her break from the gate and every detail of every turn on the slalom course.
  • The basketball player visualizes every bend of the knees and elbows, flick of the wrist and release of the free throw shot.
  • The diver visualizes each measured step of the walk to the end of the board, the jump, landing, spring, arc and knife-like entry into the water.

Athletes place themselves in the event and rehearse it in their minds in explicit mental, emotional and physical detail.

Event simulation boosts officer safety and survival.

Officers who display peak performance in lethal force conflicts demonstrate the value of event simulation. Dr. Darrell Ross, chairman of the Dept. of Law Enforcement and Justice Administration at Western Illinois University, analyzed 86 high-profile, contested police-suspect confrontations.

The cops in Ross' study - 121 male officers, mostly patrolmen, from 94 agencies scattered across the U.S. - amassed an enviable record. While suspects were killed in 97% of these confrontations, all the involved officers survived. Of the civil suits that actually went to court (86%), all the officers and their departments prevailed, either through summary judgments or trial verdicts.

In almost all cases the shooting was the officer's first. What produced peak performances their first time out? One of the common factors Ross noted was that the officers practiced event simulation. As he reported,

En route to the scene, these officers usually began constructing an impression of what they'd be encountering. They generally had some limited information from dispatch. Often they'd been to the location before or knew some of the history of the people they were responding to.

More than 1/3 of the officers had formal training in mental simulation, and many others practiced it on their own. Ross added,

A number of the officers said they had mentally rehearsed being in the kind of situation they ended up in.


Academy trainers, in-service instructors and FTOs may need to help shape the mental simulations of recruits and officers who may be products of today's pop psychology and self-help movement.

Law enforcement can benefit from event simulation training beyond lethal force or other tactical encounters. Trainers and leaders can help officers and recruits

  • Solve problems that may be stressing them out or
  • Successfully perform any task that has eluded them

By taking them through event simulation instructions in Rivkin's and Taylor's experiment. Then instruct them to spend some minutes every day in the event simulation exercise. Finally, have them report back to you.

There is a big difference in visualizing outcomes and visualizing events. It may be a difference that you have to teach modern officers and recruits. Research and tested officers' experience indicates it is worth the effort and can be beneficial in a broad arena of problem solving and job task performance.

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