This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Hands up, don't shoot: Decision factors underlying the use of deadly force




Willis, Julia

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis




Making good decisions at work is an important facet of job performance. Understanding the cognitive processes underlying an individual’s decision making habits may improve the general comprehension of decision outcomes. It is also important to investigate environmental and individual factors which may impact decision making, such as workplace stress and how individuals cope with stress, biases, or individual propensity for risk taking. This study addressed the cognitive processes underlying decision making under stress that is common in many workplaces, such as how a police officer might consciously or unconsciously identify threats and decide to utilize lethal force differently depending on perpetrator race. Individuals who took part in this study demonstrated higher shooting rates for Black than White figures and higher shooting rates for threatening figures than non-threatening figures. To examine the impact of stress on decision making we used a time pressure manipulation, and time pressure did not demonstrate significant impact on shoot rates, regardless of race of figure presented. Additionally, individual differences such as risk taking behaviors and racial bias did not significantly impact shooting rates. As such, future training programs should seek to help officers mitigate unconscious biases and correctly identify threats under stress, such as time pressure.