The risk of being shot at: Stress, cortisol secretion and their impact on memory and perceived learning during reality-based practice for armed officers

J. Taverniers*, T. Smeets, V.R. J., J. Syroit, J. van Grumbkow

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

23 Citations (Web of Science)


A field experiment was organized during a handgun shooting workshop for armed officers (N = 36). In-depth stress analyses involved anticipatory distress, subjective stress, and salivary cortisol reactivity triggered by reality-based handgun shooting practice and, more specifically, by being in an uncontrollable situation with the risk of being shot at. Subsequently, the study examined to what extent exposure to reality-based stress affected working memory performances and self-perceived active learning. As expected, the risk of being shot at caused more anticipatory distress, subjective stress, and increasingly triggered cortisol secretion. Further results showed that, although stress endurance deteriorated working memory performance, participants in the high-realism group simultaneously self-perceivably learned more (i.e., acquired task-relevant skills and competencies). The dual stress effect may result from the professional appreciation of reality-based practice and increased self-efficacy toward hazardous real-lift situations. Balancing the intersection between occupational psychology, cognitive psychology, and psychoneuroendocrinology, this study performed stress research in an important and rarely accessible professional setting.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-132
JournalInternational Journal of Stress Management
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011

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