Identifying Ways to Improve Preemployment Psychological Evaluations for Law Enforcement Officers: Accounting for Context-Specific Variability in Stress and Lethal Force Decision-Making



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Preemployment psychological evaluations (PPEs) are part of the hiring process for law enforcement (LE), which can provide information on LE officer candidates’ emotional functioning, behavioral dispositions, cognitive skills, and psychological support systems (Holzman & Kirschner, 2003). Multiple studies support the predictive validity of measures used in PPEs in predicting LE officers’ performance. One of the most commonly used instruments, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory – 3 (MMPI-3), is a reliable and valid broadband measure in LE settings. Its predictive qualities have been well assessed, but not in the context of predicting lethal force decision-making. The present study served as the necessary initial step in evaluating the potential of the MMPI-3 to predict variability in lethal force decision-making under normal and acutely stressful conditions. Using a convenience sample of university students, proof-of-concept was demonstrated for the proposed research design. Results did not support initial hypotheses; hypothesized scale scores on the MMPI-3 did not significantly relate to performance on the First-Person Shooter Task (FPST) under stressful or control conditions, nor did MMPI-3 scores moderate the relationship between FPST control and FPST stress performances. An unexpected significant relationship was shown between aggression, as measured by the MMPI-3, and performance on the FPST under stress. Manipulation checks revealed successful induction/reduction of stress as measured through self-report data, but this was not supported by non-self-report data. These results suggest self-reported stress and difficulty used as manipulation checks might be inaccurate determinants of the successful induction of stress; decision-making on the FPST did not vary as a function of successful induction of acute stress or personality and/or psychopathology as measured by the MMPI-3; and/or limitations discussed later are partly responsible for the nonsignificant findings obtained. Continuing to investigate the relationship between acute stress, decision-making, and psychopathology/personality, has the potential to offer further insight into methods for experimentally manipulating stress, as well as the validity and utility of manipulation checks. Present results notwithstanding, the data acquired from this pilot study will contribute to future directions of the proposed research design and investigations of the MMPI-3’s potential for predicting variability in decision-making under normal and acutely stressful conditions.



Stress and Lethal Force Decision-Making