Book Review – Processing Under Pressure: Stress, Memory and Decision Making in Law Enforcement by Matthew J. Sharps

Life is a series of weird coincidences. A friend sent me a copy of Processing Under Pressure because the cover used the same stock photo as my book, Force Decisions. It was good for a laugh and it sat on my shelf for months. I finally picked it up for a read and tore through it in two days.

Professor Sharps teaches cognitive psychology in California. His wife is a practicing police psychologist. He has made a point of consulting with active officers in this book, and also in the experiments he has designed and published. As Sharps says, “… modern psychological science and modern law enforcement have a lot to say to each other… Both groups, the shrinks and the cops, are in possession of critically useful information, information that can enhance both fields.”

This short, readable book covers the effects of short- and long-term stress on the nervous systems; how stress affects perception, decision making, and memory; and gives practical, useful advice on constructing training and formatting information so that it is easier to access under extreme stress.

The writing style is comfortable, even conversational. There is a mix of science, statistics, documented laboratory studies and anecdotes the illustrate the main points clearly and effectively. The language was clear— you don’t need a background in neuroscience to follow along. If you are familiar with the world of risk management, you’ll find some interesting cross-overs, e.g. Gordon Graham’s concept of “discretionary time” fits very neatly with Professor Sharps’ Feature Intensive vs Gestalt continuum.

Reviewed by Rory Miller.

If you’ve read Laurence Gonzales’ Deep Survival and you want some of the scientific theory underlying Gonzales’ observations. Processing Under Pressure is a good start. I’ll be adding it to the recommended reading list at:


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