Force Science News #246:

From our inbox: Our readers write about mental imagery...

Editor's note: On behalf of the entire Force Science team, we want to thank you for your tremendous enthusiasm and support for the Institute's efforts this past year. We want to assure you of our deep commitment to continuing and expanding our research and training in 2014 and beyond. You are the reason we do what we do. We're grateful to all of you for your work and we promise to continue to support it through ours.


From our inbox: Our readers write about mental imagery...


Force Science News #245 (12/17/13), which reported a study on the benefits of mental imagery for improving shooting accuracy under fire, drew a lively international response from our readers. Their emails ranged from skepticism about conclusions of the study to how they've applied life-saving imagination in training.


Here's a representative sampling. Some letters have been edited for brevity or clarity.


How imagery works for one trainer


For more than 20 years, we've been asking officers to do guided imagery on the range. The script goes: "Close your eyes and imagine the last person you thought was going to kill you. If you've been in a shooting or someone tried to stab you or beat you to death, imagine that person's face and eyes. If you have not, you probably have walked away from a call saying to yourself, 'I was lucky this time. He (or she) could have killed me.'


"Now imagine that person with hatred in their eyes reaching for a gun, drawing it. Now imagine your perfect response--you move quickly, draw quickly, and every round you fire hits the suspect. Imagine moving to cover and continuing to fight. You are not shooting paper targets today. This suspect is trying to kill you. Imagine each round you fire saving your life."


The shooters are taken through the imagery first in slow motion: moving and drawing, the weapon interrupting the eye-target line and aligning on the targeted area, the trigger being depressed smoothly, recoil managed, trigger reset, and follow-up rounds fired with each hitting exactly where intended. Then the imagery is sped up to real time. This takes less than five minutes, and we generally initiate this on the range following initial combatives and movement training.


We also add a physical component to "fool the amygdala," creating an emotional "experience" with the training. Upon hearing "Threat!" (execution command), shooters are instructed to take in a sharp intake of breath and jerk their shoulders up (hands also come forward a bit) and head forward at the target, regardless of their orientation to the target) if facing sideways or to the rear, the eyes snap to the target). A slight crouching results. They then execute the prescribed drill. By physically mimicking the surprise response, we get a small adrenaline spike. It also mimics the "freeze, flee, fight" response to sudden threat.


This process is continued during physical training as well. We believe that invoking the memory of an actual person who attempted to kill the officer combined with the mimicry of being surprised/realizing imminent threat creates a potent training experience that can be immediately called upon during rapid problem-solving (pattern-matching) in the field.


While some cops are "too cool" to do this, most willingly participate. We've had positive comments, sometimes years later, from those who have used this training to save their lives. It's good to finally have the science validate what we intuitively knew and have experienced clinically in the field.


Training Dir. George Williams

Cutting Edge Training, LLC

Bellingham, WA


Was it really imagery that improved performance?

Improved shooting accuracy attributable to seven minutes of visualization?


The more likely explanation is the pre-event knowledge and specific intelligence for what was about to happen in the experiment's second shooting confrontation, which was given only to the two groups that were exposed to guided imagery. That made their experience far less cognitively demanding, being that there was no "surprise" element. This enabled those officers to focus on shooting alone; no dynamic threat analysis was required--unlike officers in the control group, who were almost certainly far more anxious about what was to happen.


Interesting study, however the suggestion of imagery as a method of improving accuracy after only seven minutes seems less plausible than the very real cognitive effect of priming and task understanding, which as we know enhances performance by limiting choice selection.


Constable Dave Blocksidge

London Metropolitan Police

Force Science Certification Course graduate


[Comment from Dr. Bill Lewinski: Dave Blocksidge is absolutely correct in his comments regarding other factors in the study that the researchers did not consider and appeared not to control for. It is a definite weakness of the study.


The researchers, however, did comment in the full version of the study that even though they did not get robust results in their study, mental visualization has proven to be a very significant and well researched factor in increasing performance in psychomotor skills under all conditions including intense competition.


Visualization and imaging, particularly when paired with different levels of emotional arousal such as relaxation or focused intensity, as illustrated by George Williams' practice, first came to Western civilization from the Russian space program in the 40s and 50s. However, it has been used for more than 800 years by a variety of warrior cultures and has been a significant part of various religious groups for almost 2,000 years. I am glad that we are beginning to learn about this tool and to research its use and effectiveness in law enforcement.]


"Mindfulness" training impacts combat stress


A few years ago I attended a conference where a pilot study of "Mindfulness" meditative training for military personnel was discussed. Selected Marines were exposed to it prior to war-zone deployment, others were not. The Mindfulness work included learning to relax within the context of imagined firefights during a series of sessions of significant duration each, spread over a period of time.


The outcome: the Mindfulness-trained group experienced significantly lowered post-shooting combat stress symptoms. Since post-shooting combat stress, left unresponded to, can lead to PTSD, and since costs of training officers in Mindfulness or similar imagery/meditative protocols is likely within the reach of most departments, it seems like a worthwhile intervention.


[Editor's note: A report by psychology writer Maria Konnikova, author of the book Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, states that Mindfulness training is "about concentration: the ability to quiet your mind, focus your attention on the present, and dismiss any distractions. The formulation dates from the work of psychologist Ellen Langer."]


Dr. H. Anthony Semone

Police psychologist

Wyndmoor, PA

Force Science Certification Course graduate


Imagery study "a big benefit"


I'm a psychologist specializing in work with first responders. It will be a big benefit to share the report about mental imagery and accuracy with the two shooters I saw today, and with other clients. Thanks for the good intel.


Dr. Anne Bisek

Fremont, CA


Information invaluable for growth


I recently received a forwarded copy of your newsletter and was very impressed and encouraged by the information. I am responsible for the training and development of our uniformed and non-uniformed staff, and I believe your tips and information could be invaluable for our growth.


Gregory Piper

Staff Development Coordinator

Ellsworth (KS) State Correctional Facility


And on active-shooter response...Amen to fast EMS involvement


I was excited to read Lt. Casavant's comments in Force Science News #245 regarding his training for getting EMS quickly involved at active-shooter scenes. Amen to those views!


Training Sgt. Craig Allen

Hillsboro (OR) PD

Force Science Certification Course graduate

© 2017 Force Science Institute Ltd.