Archive for the ‘Motives and Opportunity’ Category

Police Psychology | Managing Your Inner Zombie

by Doug Gentz, Ph.D.

All of us have a complex, pervasive, extensive network of habits that we might as well think of as our “Inner Zombie.” It’s responsible for most of our behavior. That turns out to be a good thing because most zombiethings we do are best done “mindlessly” and automatically. Imagine how little we could get done if we had to deliberately figure out or remember how to walk, talk, or drive our cars. In general, learning is just acquiring new and useful habits. We like to get them out of the initially awkward and conscious stage and turn them over to our “inner zombie” for execution as soon as possible. When your Inner Zombie took over the job of lining up your thumbs below the slide of your Glock, your range scores probably improved.

At a neurological level habits are just synaptic connections between nerves. The more a habitual behavior is performed, the stronger the synaptic connection (and the more likely it is to be performed again). This is the physiological fact that leads to the first axiom of learning theory: All habits are permanent. (more…)

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Police Psychology | Get Thee to a Conference

by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.  ABPP


My first experience with a professional conference came when I was 35 years old.  My partner and I had started a newsletter for mental health of police officers in the late 80’s.  In an attempt to getConference it out to the public, we had contacted Clint Van Sandt of the FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit.  We went down to see him and we were ushered over to Dr. James Reese.  He was running a program inviting the top police psychologists to stay at the FBI Academy and he invited me to join. It opened up my world to about fifty police psychologists.  Fifty people doing what I did, but also something different.  That different was what I needed to know.  I remember I made a presentation that day about Keeping It Simple as a law enforcement officer.   I quoted some great persons in history like Aristotle, Einstein and Dante who all told you to simplify.  Then I said “we have to go with the modern greats” and I went around the room and quoted the psychologists who spoke before me.  Got everyone’s attention on that one, and it started my work with the FBI and many other departments since. (more…)

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Police Psychology | 30 Dates in 30 Days


This is an area where few police psychologist have ever gone.  In fact, only two that I know.

When we started the book, Red Flags!  How to Know When You’re Dating a Loser we, Dan Goldfarb and I just wanted to give some advice to girls who were looking for a mate.  We designed the book around letting our red flags booksmallfemale clients know when they are dating a loser by the third date.  But it had to sell.  So we came up with the idea that since we were police psychologists, we were teaching profiling of relationship criminals to women.  When phrased that way, people got real interested as 22 of 25 agents on first mailing wanted to be the one to represent it.  Usually you send it out to hundreds of agents and get tons of rejection letters before you find one that might take it.  (Steven King even wallpapered a room in his house with rejections from his first book, Carrie, a huge best-seller and movie.  Guess he got the last laugh.)

So, now Dan and I had to write it and we needed some research beyond our patients.  Well, I was breaking up at the time with a five-year on-and-off relationship and some of the cops came in and said I needed “30 dates in 30 days.”  It was what I told cops to do in the same situation (sort of a Next in cop language) modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous’ “30 meetings in 30 days.”   So I thought 30 dinners in 30 days, I could probably get away with this for $1500 or so.  I could write it off as research, and meet thirty women, why not? (more…)

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Police Psychology | Why Do I Do That!


Police psychology is sometimes very complicated, but sometimes it is not. Let’s spend today’s post back to the Psychology 101 classical conditioning roots. The funny thing is, this whole discovery and all its implications was actually the result of an accident. Pavlov set out to research digestion, but in Police psychology, dog salivatingthe process of his experimentation, he noticed his dog began to salivate when he heard a bell ring because he had learned that that meant food was coming. Thus began classical conditioning. Classical conditioning is a tremendously large field that we can’t possibly hope to cover in one post. Today, we will begin with some classical conditioning basics.

Briefly, classical conditioning is when a formerly neutral stimulus, or conditioned stimulus (CS), such as the tone of a bell, becomes paired with an unconditioned stimulus (UCS), such as real food, so that the neutral stimulus produces the response meant for the UCS. The more the neutral stimulus is paired with the UCS, the greater the conditioned response. This is a very delicate balancing game: the CS neutral stimulus must be presented closely enough in time to the UCS so that the individual learns to associate the two with each other. Have I lost you yet? I can’t stand initials.

Classical conditioning is often associated with fear conditioning. In one seminal study, Watson trained a little boy, called Little Albert, to fear a white rat that he initially loved. How? He paired the presence of the white rat with a sudden, loud noise. Little Albert learned to associate this scary noise with the rat, so eventually he came to fear the rat itself, because it was now associated with the aversive noise. With more trials, this fear then came to be generalized, and he soon learned to fear all things furry, like cats, and hamsters, and even a Santa Clause mask. What no one will tell you is there was a big controversy whether our buddy Little Al really was a well-functioning kid, and whether some of this result really happened at all, but that may be a reaction to Watson sleeping with a grad student and leaving psychology to invent some classic marketing strategies and themes that netted him a lot of money, but for now let’s say it happened as the books tell us.

Classical Conditioning in Everyday Life

Classical conditioning is a lot more common than you may think. In fact, many emotional and physiological responses you experience in everyday life are actually the result of classical conditioning, even if you are never aware that your brain has made any associations! Here are some examples: have you ever heard scary music play in the background of a movie or TV show and you instinctively knew something bad was about to happen? Or have you ever looked over at the clock and noticed its noon, and all of a sudden your stomach starts growling when you weren’t hungry a few minutes ago? And I’m sure almost everyone here can attest to the fact that when they see a pretty girl or guy, they experience an emotional and physiological reaction almost immediately. All classical conditioning.

Here are a few hypothetical questions: do you think you would be willing to eat chocolate fudge formed to look like dog feces? Or would you be willing to drink a cup of apple juice that a sterilized cockroach had been dipped into? Or do you think you’d be willing to drink a solution with sugar that was taken from a container with the label “poison” on it, even if you were told the label was incorrect? Rozin & Fallon (1987) posed these very types of situations to participants and noticed that even when participants could logically understand that nothing was wrong or unhealthy about these items they were told to eat or drink, emotionally, they just could not force themselves to get passed their level of disgust associated with dog feces, bugs, and poison. Conditioned responses are not created through logical and conscious thought. Because of this, it is very hard to force people to consciously separate responses they think are reflexive or natural or autonomic, even though in truth they are really responses learned through unconscious conditioning.  

Published in one of the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader was a strange classical conditioning  Santa Coke, police stressstory about Santa Claus. It talked about how an artist named Haddon Sundblom drew the current image of Santa in his red, white with a black belt in the 30’s to look like a Coca Cola bottle—and it stuck. Santa was many images before that in different colors, but the Santa in Coke corporate colors is the one most of us think of.   Haddon Sundblom was hired by none other than Watson when he was in advertising. Nah, I made that up about Watson, although it was in the same time. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. But the Coke bottle Santa Claus thing is argued by many, so who knows.

Classical Conditioning and the Media

Classical conditioning is a powerful force, but it’s not always negative. In the advertising world, companies try to exploit our responses to unconditioned stimuli, like our arousal when we see a pretty woman, or our warm feeling when we see people laughing and smiling together, and try to pair that with their product, the neutral stimulus. They don’t hire ugly girls to do Viagra commercials. Their hope is that we will learn to associate these positive feelings with their products, so that when we see a beer bottle, a car, chocolate, or even a soda can, we automatically feel aroused or some sort of emotion toward the object. This is like a form of subliminal messaging. Classical conditioning is also explored in different books, movies, and TV shows. For example, in Clockwork Orange, the violent main character named Alex undergoes a treatment in which he is injected with a drug to make him feel nauseous just as they sit him down to watch a number of violent videos. He thus learns to associate extreme nausea with violence, and so when he is later put in situations in which he would have formerly acted violently, he does not do so because of the negative associations he now has with violence. This is a form of classical conditioning called aversion therapy.

One last note on classical conditioning: often there are unintended side effects. For example, Pavlov noticed his dogs learned to salivate when they heard the tone of the bell because they knew that meant food was coming, but he also noticed they began to salivate when they heard footsteps (because the food was also always accompanied by footsteps of his assistants walking into the room), and when they saw white lab coats (because that’s what their feeders wore). Similarly, in Clockwork Orange, during the violent videos that Alex was forced to watch while feeling nauseous, Beethoven was playing in the background. Thus, not only did Alex learn to associate nausea with violence, but he also learned to associate it with Beethoven. Doesn’t happen in real life you say! What is your association with steel drums or Reggae? Heck, just the mention has me salivating for some Jerk Chicken and a Bahama Mama.

So let’s bring it into police psychology. Ever have an officer say they just had a bad feeling about a situation they watched across the street while in a restaurant? It’s most likely conditioned in them by a bad situation they were in before. Or how about a cop associating the treatment they got from their spouse to the way they were treated on the streets by some bad guys? All emotional reactions connected to classical conditioning and as someone working in police psychology or if you are an officer yourself, you have to be aware of it. Time to take an inventory to make sure the classical conditioning in your life doesn’t make you puke to a good thing like a Moonlight Sonata (Beethoven).

Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.

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Police Psychology | Are You Cooperative or Competitive?


This question resonates for all police psychology from testing to operational to consulting to working with the officer in a therapeutic role.  Are you cooperative or competitive? In order to understand this question better, we need to understand the specific Police psychology, competitivedifferences between these two mental attitudes. Cooperation is when people act together for the mutual benefit of all involved parties, so that all of them can obtain a specific goal. Competition is when an individual acts for his own personal benefit so that he can obtain a goal that is of limited availability. So when you are playing a board game with only one winner, chances are you will feel a sense of competitiveness, because the goal (ie. being the winner) is of limited availability, what with only one spot available. Yet when you are working on a team project, chances are you will tend to exhibit cooperative behavior because the goal (getting a good grade) is not awarded to only one person in the group.

Game Theory

In this post I want to discuss something known as game theory, specifically the prisoner’s dilemma,and how it realates to something we all want—Trust. The prisoner’s dilemma is based on a hypothetical case in which you have two prisoners (prisoner A and prisoner B, creative huh?) taken into custody and placed in separate interrogation rooms. In order to convict these individuals, the police needs a confession from at least one of the prisoners. Obviously each prisoner has two options: he can either confess or not confess. The outcome depends on how each of the prisoners respond. If both prisoners remain silent and do not confess, they are charged with a misdemeanor. If both prisoners confess, they will be charged with a felony, but recommended for a moderate sentence. If prisoner A confesses and prisoner B remains silent, prisoner A will have his charges dropped and prisoner B will be charged and receive the maximum sentence (and vice versa). To make this a little clearer, let’s examine a chart. The numbers used for sentencing in the chart below should just be seen as placeholders representing any range of larger sentencing.

police psychology, game theory

Obviously the best option for each prisoner is to confess while the other remains silent, because then they do not get punished at all in that case. In other words, each prisoner gains the most if they choose to cooperate while the other prisoner competes. However, it is likely that both prisoners will weigh their options and come to this same conclusion, leading to a scenario where they both decide to confess (hoping the other stays silent), thus causing them to both serve a moderate sentence. However, there is a better option for these prisoners: if they both remain silent and do not confess, they will only get charged with a misdemeanor, a slight offense with very low consequences. It would make the most sense for the prisoners to mutually agree to just stay quiet.

The Power of Trust

But studies in which people were placed in this type of situation show that most individuals choose to compete. Why? I can suggest two possible reasons. One, each person is trying to look out for their own best interests, which would fall into the category of confessing and hoping the other person does not. Another reason is that the individuals don’t trust each other. In the prisoner’s dilemma, the police count on this: they are hoping each person confesses, or at the very least that one person confesses, so that they can get their conviction. They are counting on the fact that the prisoners won’t trust their partner, and they will get the conviction they need.  Police psychology must be aware of this because psychologists are dealing with people who must trust their partners everyday in very different ways.

There are many other examples of cooperation and competition that crop up in the media. One recent example came from a teacher at the University of Maryland. The teacher included a very controversial question on his final examination for the semester:

“Here you have the opportunity to earn some extra credit on your final paper grade. Select whether you want 2 points or 6 points added onto your final paper grade. But there’s a small catch: if more than 10% of the class selects 6 points, then no one gets any points. Your responses will be anonymous to the rest of the class, only I will see the responses.”

Obviously the best option for each individual student is to select the extra 6 points (and hope most of the class doesn’t pick this too), but if every student makes this judgment call, then no one will receive the extra points. In this case, cooperation is really the only way that the class can benefit…but cooperation requires trust, and trust is hard to come by. (In case you are curious, more than 10% of the students selected 6 points, and so no one received the extra credit.)

Studies like these suggest a very simplistic idea: cooperation is better than competition. And yet in practice, cooperation requires something elusive and often lacking: trust. If only people trust each other more, everyone can benefit from something that is of limited availability.

Bottom Line

So where am I going with this you may ask. If you never get arrested, you have no dilemma, right? Not so quick Speedy Gonzales!   Not at least in police psychology.  If you are your kid’s favorite parent, what is your spouse? You can either allow this acclamation from your child or confront it. “You don’t need to pick a favorite, just say we are both your favorites.” Kid will learn quickly that mom and dad are together, and trust it. Or the kid will learn he or she can split their parents and raise the roof as a teen. Believe it or not, adult bosses do the same thing, in fact, it is one of the techniques used in gaining power in the workplace. “Boss, you shouldn’t have favorites, but thank you for liking my work this week. We work as a team though,” is better than revealing in being your bosses favorite. It is hard to gain trust back after you have lost it, and setting yourself apart through this kind of manipulation gets around and divides an office. Trust comes when you let people know your work will set you apart, not other people’s feelings about you.  If trust is broken in a police relationship it can be deadly.

And what happens when you come across that person who says they will be silent but talks to save themselves? The damage they do to anyone who sees this act will be ten times the sentence you will receive. You will come out ahead.

Trust me on that one!


Police psychology: simple steps3 Attitudes that Gain Trust

  1. Deflect the credit – Allow your teammates or the people close to you share in the credit. Don’t allow individual praise split your team. “I am the hero today, someone else will be tomorrow,” is the attitude you need to endorse. Many people fake this attitude, but you should live it. People will know who did the individual work, you don’t need to tell them.
  2. Consistency – This one should go without saying. You can be spontaneous in other parts of your life, but in areas where trust is needed you have to respond consistently. People that depend on you need to have some idea how you are going to respond. There is some taking advantage of people who are predictable, but consistency is the major builder of trust.
  3. Always Be the One Who Remains Silent — If you have a cooperative agreement, you must remain the silent one, the one that sticks with the agreement. People who don’t can’t often live with themselves despite the outcome. Don’t allow what others are doing affect your personal belief system and your soul. It may take time, but you will be a lot better off taking the punishment, than living with the broken promise.

Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.

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