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Brief Mental Skills Training Improves Memory and Performance in High Stress Police Cadet Training

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Psychological performance training has been shown to mitigate the negative effects of stress for police officers. We contributed to this body of evidence using techniques in breathing, mental performance imagery, and attentional focus. One group (experimental) of police academy cadets was trained in these techniques to deal with the stressful event of being sprayed with oleoresin capsicum (OC). Their physiological and behavioral responses to the event were compared to a control group of cadets. The results showed the experimental group demonstrated significantly better memory recall of salient aspects of the OC spray event and that cadets from both groups using controlled breathing during the event scored significantly higher in memory recall. Several trends were found that further suggested the effectiveness of psychological performance training. While heart rate increased from baseline to pre-OC and post-OC measures across groups, there were no group differences at these time points. Our findings add to the growing body of literature on psychological skill training effects on tactical performance and are notable for results of enhanced performance occurring with relatively brief training in the psychological techniques. Because of the ecological design, the findings should generalize to other high stress encounters in policing.

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Grateful appreciation is expressed to Major Adam Kisthardt, Lt. Douglas A. Young, Cpl. Kevin Selverian and Academy physical training staff: Cpl. Brendan McCanally, Cpl. John Stover, Trpr. Shanelle Peters, Trpr 1st Class Mark Greener, and Cpl. Jeff Martin, for their help and support in making this study possible.

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Correspondence to Jonathan W. Page.

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Page, J.W., Asken, M.J., Zwemer, C.F. et al. Brief Mental Skills Training Improves Memory and Performance in High Stress Police Cadet Training. J Police Crim Psych 31, 122–126 (2016).

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