Police Psychology | The Principle of Relativity (or something like that)

Posted: March 20, 2015 in Motives and Opportunity
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The Principle of Relativity (or something like that)


jet plane

Objects moving at the same speed may not notice they are traveling at a different pace than the people around them.

I like to teach that scientific principles and theories have mental health correlates that we should pay attention to in both police psychology and all denominations of the mental health field. Scientific theory is highly dependent on observation (both inside and outside of experiments) and many of the principles can apply across situation observed in nature. Since many people have problems with science, let me put the concept in a simpler form.

If you and I are flying in a plane, and you choose to toss me a ball, even though we are traveling at 560 miles an hour through the air, the ball will go directly to me as if there was no motion at all. Essentially, because we are moving at the same speed, there is no motion between us and we can act as we regularly would despite being in a plane going 560 or more miles per hour. Now scientists will argue whether this is covered in Newton’s laws, Einstein’s theory of relativity, or even Aristotle’s or Galileo’s theories on motion explains this, but I extend to you that if I toss you a chocolate donut or a bagel with cream cheese in a plane going 560 miles an hour, you will still catch it easily unless I throw it badly. Name it what you want, but bodies that are moving the same speed do not feel motion unless there is something moving at a different speed, such as the wind if you were standing on the wing of the airplane.

I find human interaction is regulated by this same principle. When an officer is assigned to a special unit, such as sex crimes or emergency service, they are moving at a speed that the rest of the world may be a step or two behind. The same happens in business when working on a fast-paced project. It is easy to communicate with other people in the unit or on the project, but it will be more difficult to communicate to people outside of the unit or project. We often find when a spouse comes home and the pace may be slower or just focused elsewhere, they may get very irritable, or impatient. Trying to get a lead on a murder suspect that is time-sensitive is a different pace than waiting for your 7-year old to pick out pants to wear to school or coming home to an indecisive spouse trying to make a decision about dinner that night. Tempo is important in writing, in sports, in speaking well, in holding attention of people, and in life in general. Many people can adjust what they are thinking about, but don’t have a clue about adjusting to the tempo of life from work to home. The other problem occurs when someone comes home and ratchets down to zero, with really no sense of the pace in their house. When you lose tempo, just as in a song, no one can make music together.

Managing the Tempos of Life


Adjusting your tempo to fit that of others is important to maintaining the relationships in your life.

I have been trained in music. When I come across a tempo problem, I pull out the old metronome, a tool for staying on the beat. Actually, now I have a metronome on my cell phone that I use. I explain “tempo” describing from the airplane to the song. Then I ask them to give me examples at the different beats per minute on the metronome. What part of life goes at 140 beats per minute, what goes at 40 beats per minute? There is no normal so don’t worry about that. Our lives are regulated by beats per minutes from heart rates, to music, to our mental health. I explore that with the officers I see to get them to realize that the pace of their special unit may be different then their spouse and kids, or their social life. The key is for them to adjust, not to try to push everyone else at their pace.

Tempo is an important concept in your life, and it is a mental health concept as well, that can help you evaluate how to manage your time. Whether you call it relativity, or a law of motion is not as important as getting the person to attend to the natural pace of parts of their life. And if you can do this successfully, you will have a much happier and healthier life

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Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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