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Using natural language processing to measure cognitive load during use-of-force decision-making training

Vivian Ta-Johnson (Department of Psychology, Lake Forest College, Lake Forest, Illinois, USA)
Joel Suss (Department of Psychology, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas, USA)
Brian Lande (Polis Solutions, Inc., Dallas, Texas, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 27 December 2022

Issue publication date: 23 March 2023




Few studies have tested the efficacy of instruction based on cognitive load theory in police use-of-force (UoF) training due to limitations of existing cognitive load measures. Although linguistic measures of cognitive load address these limitations, they have yet to be applied to police UoF training. This study aims to discuss the aforementioned issue.


Officers’ verbal behavioral data from two UoF de-escalation projects were used to calculate cognitive load and assess how it varied with officer experience level (less-experienced, experienced). The verbal data were further analyzed to examine specific thinking patterns that contributed to heightened cognitive load across officer experience levels.


Across both studies, responses from less-experienced officers contained greater usage of cognitive language than responses from experienced officers. Specific cognitive processes that contribute to cognitive load in specific situations were also identified.


This paper enables police trainers to facilitate the development of adaptive training strategies to improve police UoF training via the reduction of cognitive load, and also contributes to the collective understanding of how less-experienced and experienced officers differ in their UoF decision-making.



This work was supported by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA-2016-VI-BX-K005). The authors acknowledge Paul Ward's guidance in the design of the study that generated the data analyzed in Study 2.


Ta-Johnson, V., Suss, J. and Lande, B. (2023), "Using natural language processing to measure cognitive load during use-of-force decision-making training", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 46 No. 2, pp. 227-242.



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