New study aims to measure how PTSD affects officers

The study will track how even minor symptoms of PTSD affect decision-making

Janet Shucard, Ph.D. By PoliceOne Staff

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A new study at a New York university will track how even minor symptoms of PTSD affect decision-making.

Researchers at the University at Buffalo will work with members of the Buffalo Police Department on a three-year, $814,000 study funded by the U.S. DOJ’s National Institute of Justice, according to a University of Buffalo press release. The study will take a look the effects of PTSD on attention and cognitive control in police.

Janet Shucard, Ph.D., associate professor of neurology and leader of the project, said few studies have looked at the “brain structure and function in police officers.” Shucard said even officers with mild symptoms of PTSD can suffer negative effects on their mental health, putting their safety and the safety of the public at risk. 

“Our study is the only one, to our knowledge, that will examine the neurobiology of rapid decision-making in police officers,” Shucard said.

Since the nature of police work can expose officers to traumatic events, LEOs are more likely to develop PTSD. Researchers said the symptoms can hinder an officer’s ability to make the right decision, quickly.

Participants in the study will include 110 officers who’ve been exposed to traumatic events and have a range of PTSD symptoms. Fifty-five non-trauma exposed civilian control participants will also be involved.

Researchers will measure the electrical activity of neurons in the brain while officers and control participants perform a “go/no-go task.” The task requires participants to either respond quickly and accurately or refrain from responding depending on specific visual stimuli.

Psychological interviews will also be conducted to measure the presence and severity of PTSD symptoms, as well as depression and anxiety.

Researchers hope the study’s findings will lead to new training and treatment approaches, as well as early detections of the effects of trauma on officers and others regularly exposed to traumatic events.