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Us vs. them? The problem of cognitive distortions in policing

Wolfe, S. E., Mclean, K., Alpert, G. P., & Rojek, J. (2024). Us Versus Them? The Problem of Cognitive Distortions in Policing. Police Quarterly, 0(0).

Published onMay 19, 2024
Us vs. them? The problem of cognitive distortions in policing


The literature on cognitive distortions offers insight on why we continue to face reform challenges regarding police use of force- and citizen interaction-related outcomes. We used two studies of police officers to determine the extent to which one cognitive distortion – dichotomous thinking—was associated with problematic orientations about use of force and citizen interactions. In Study 1, we found that dichotomous thinking was associated with weaker support for de-escalation, procedural justice, and maintaining self-control during hypothetical citizen interactions. Dichotomous thinking also was associated with more support for force-related misconduct. Study 2 showed that officers who engaged in dichotomous thinking were more likely to perceive an immediate and serious threat from watching suspects in body-worn camera videos. Also, they were more likely to believe suspects had greater ability, opportunity, and intent to cause harm. We discuss the practical implications of these findings for policing and police reform.

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