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The Einstellung Effect: Are Traditions Holding Us Back?

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Internationally recognized experts in the study of violence have observed that our democratic society would cease to exist within a single generation without effective law enforcement. At Force Science, the researchers, trainers, and use of force experts continue to support law enforcement’s vital mission. We remain committed to the men and women who selflessly serve their communities, maintain public safety, and restrain evil.

Force Science is driven to optimize community and officer safety through researched-backed education and training. We have been privileged to work with top law enforcement trainers for over two decades. These talented professionals continue to search for, identify, and train the tactics, decision-making, and performance necessary to meet the incredible demands on law enforcement. 

What we teach at Force Science has been a compilation of lessons from our independent research and those from top experts in psychology, medicine, human factors, and law enforcement. But even as we focus on the substance of police training, we recognize that how training is conducted plays a critical role in effective performance. 

In this article, we set aside the substance of training to discuss the importance of methods and processes of training. We look to the experts in education for training methods that can result in more effective skills transfer, improved retention, and expert decision-making.

First, we must begin with a short discussion of the Einstellung Effect, a psychological bias that can significantly impede the progress of trainers. Next, we consider how this bias may be impacting current training. And finally, we explore potential solutions and areas for further research.

The Einstellung Effect

The Einstellung Effect has been studied in psychology since the 1940s. It has been identified as a strong cognitive bias that prevents people from making progress, locking them into a repetitive, mechanical application of previous practices. Ironically, the more expertise someone has, the more they are prone to the negative impacts of Einstellung.

If you have ever heard a trainer (or you!) say, “We’ve always done it this way!” or “It worked for ten years, why would we change now?” they may have been influenced by Einstellung. Or, if a trainer does not question training, if they do not have a curious and explorative mindset, or if they lack the desire to validate and improve training practices, they may be experiencing Einstellung.

As psychologist and researcher Carol Dweck points out in her book Mindset, you have either a fixed mindset (Einstellung mind) or a growth mindset.

The Growth Mindset

Trainers with a growth mindset have an insatiable desire for learning. They explore new ideas and concepts. They view mistakes as opportunities for personal and professional growth. High effort and challenges are desirable, and change leads to advancement.

The Growth Mindset is critically important in law enforcement, especially as research into the human factors that impact threat assessments, decision-making, and performance continues to grow.

Consider just a few of the issues that influence performance. Trainers must understand attentional processes and how “top-down” attentional control is vital for detecting threat cues. They must understand active vision, how focal and ambient vision can optimize performance, and how practice can improve visual reaction time.

Trainers must understand how open motor skill training is essential for retaining and transferring skills to the real-world operating environment. They must understand and recognize the risks of conducting skills in “closed” training environments, too often used in law enforcement. Knowledge of human factors in police performance informs the choice of skills, the training design, and the instructional methodology.

Putting It All Together: Force Science’s Latest Training

Dr. Bill Lewinski, Executive Director of Force Science, is convinced that curriculum developers and trainers are eager to prioritize method of instruction to the same degree as the course substance, “Force Science remains committed to developing evidence-based, scientifically valid training programs. For three decades now, we have been conducting and surveying research to advance our students and clients understanding of force encounters. What’s become clear is that knowing what to teach is insufficient. Trainers need to understand the science of learning to ensure knowledge and skills are effectively transferred, retained, and available for use under extreme conditions. Chris Butler is a Senior Instructor at Force Science and is considered one of the premier police trainers in North America. Chris led the development of Force Science’s latest course, focusing on the science of skill-based learning. In what may be the first course of its kind, Methods of Instruction – Training Practical Professional Policing Skills is the next step in advancing police training and performance.”

As trainers look to incorporate the latest research into their programs, they will undoubtedly question whether their current training relies on outdated tradition or untested opinions. They will look to outside experts (psychologists, researchers, sports trainers, and coaches) for proven training strategies to prepare students to operate at the extremes of human performance.

Growth-minded police trainers will combine their passion for training with a commitment to constant improvement. They will stoke an insatiable desire to question current practices and either validate them or find improved and evidence-based methods.

Is the Einstellung Effect influencing your attitude and training? Have you committed to improving training practices that enhance officer survival? Methods of Instruction – Training Practical Professional Policing Skills is a challenging course that will expose students to the critical human factors that they must understand to develop and deliver the next level of skill-based training for officers.

Editor’s Note: Chris Butler will be presenting skill-based training concepts in “Five Myths of Training” at the 2022 ILEETA Conference and Expo. Please join Chris and the rest of the Force Science team at ILEETA and stop by the Force Science booth in the Vendor Expo to learn more about our programs. We look forward to seeing you there!

4 Responses
  1. Aaron Brill

    I’m a Force Science Instructor (attended the week long course in Castle Rock, CO a few years back) and I’m the guy on the left in the picture 🤙 Just a stock photo that a guy doing pictures for my department toon and retained the rights to but still cool to be part of a FS article and I hope I’m a Growth Mindset Instructor. I certainly tried to be. If I was still at the academy I would for sure be trying to get into this class. May do it just for the knowledge anyway. Still teach CrossFit and I’m a patrol Sgt so there’s always toll call training.

  2. Donald Black

    Although I am sure that this information is a positive contribution to law enforcement, it is irrelevant given the state of training. Robert Koga, a pioneer in law enforcement training, stressed that training should be proper, adequate, consistent and regular. Law enforcement training is none of these things. Instruction is radically different from department to department with things being trained that don’t fit what an officer does. The number of hours initially taught are usually half or less of what is needed. The things taught are constantly changing with changes in chiefs and instructors. Lastly, the training is not done in regularly repeated sessions. As I discussed the differences in our training with an instructor from another department, we agreed that the differences did not matter. We agreed that the token manner in which use of force was taught made it all ineffective. We also agreed that it was training for the sake of training without regard for outcome. This is all due to a lack of leadership and outright lies by police management. Further, in Colorado, the legislature passed a “police reform” bill that defined use of force in such vague terms that officers are completely uncertain about what force is authorized. In addition, prosecutors are charging officers based upon their own uninformed assessments that mirror public frenzy. We, as trainers, are now not sure what we can teach that someone will not arbitrarily decide is excessive.

    1. Chris Carmona

      Government does not have a conscience, it has policy. Outcomes should be identified and reasonable processes need to be tailored to each organization based on legislation and department policy.

      All personnel should be intimate with how process change in accordance to accommodate change. They must be aware of how these changes influence each resource they may deploy at the individual, team and organizational level.

      Organizations need to have a better process for selecting potential instructors. When it comes to use of force many are theorists not veteran practitioners.

      “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice they are not” (A. Einstein).

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