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The conscious mind can process approximately 100 pieces of information a second, of the potential 2,000,000 bits of information that could be available for

our brains to process at any one time. Located in the human brain stem, the Reticular Activating System (RAS) contains several distinct, but interrelated, arousal systems intended to help our brains filter perceptually relevant/important information from the extraneous and repetitive stimuli of the environment. The RAS controls arousal states, sleep-wake transitions, motor responses, and the body’s autonomic functions (McMorris, 2016).

While excluding the sense of smell, the RAS is the part of the human brain which recognizes environmental and experiential patterns and attempts to "make sense" of an experience by looking for evidence to reinforce previously developed beliefs and/or associations. The RAS is typically activated when a person experiences strong emotion (arousal/stress), and/or is presented with a new and unique circumstance. Potentially, information and events an onlooker may observe, may not be recognized or remembered by the law enforcement officer engaged in that high stress event or use of force, even though that stimuli and information was environmentally available- it just wasn’t what the officer’s brain perceived as the highest processing priority, at that time, and would not subsequently be remembered.

There may also be differences in opinion in “what” a specific law enforcement officer should have done or perceived, based on the previous experience (training, field, media presentation, etc.), even if irrelevant or unrealistic, each participant or observer may have.


How are a human being’s decisions influenced by previous experiences and information?

Can those experiences include media programming and other information (news, entertainment, written information, public political positions, etc.)? Why, or why not?

Are trained law enforcement officers subject to the same physiological and human performance capabilities and limitations as an untrained person? Why, or why not?

How could repetitious subjective, or inaccurate, extraneous programming (i.e. media, political) influence a law enforcement use of force or the observer’s interpretation of a use of force? Would this be within or outside of a law enforcement officer's physiology?

Should a law enforcement officer be held responsible for recognizing, and/or correctly interpreting, all environmental information and stimuli present in a given event? Why, or why not?

How could inadvertent environmental information (media accounts of threats of violence against law enforcement officers, statistics, politics, accounts of other law enforcement officer’s experiences, etc.) influence a law enforcement officer’s RAS and subsequent decision-making? Is this within or outside of a law enforcement officer's physiology?

How might the RAS influence a preemptive law enforcement use of force?

How might the RAS influence a law enforcement officer’s recollection of a high-stress event or use of force? Could that recollection be considered disingenuous? Is it?


McMorris, T. (2016). Exercise-Cognition Interaction; Neuroscience Perspectives. Elsevier, Inc.

Ungerleider LG, Mishkin M (1982). "Two Cortical Visual Systems". In Ingle DJ, Goodale MA, Mansfield RJ. Analysis of Visual Behavior. Boston: MIT Press. pp. 549–586.

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