Experience-Dependent Effects to Situational Awareness in Police Officers: An Eye Tracking Study

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Police work requires making suitable observations which form the basis of situational awareness (SA) of the encounter in progress. Incomplete early-stage SA (i.e., perception) can lead to errors in subsequent judgement and decision-making that can have severe consequences for performance, learning, and occupational health. SA in police contexts is still relatively understudied and requires closer examination using objective measures. The current preliminary study aimed to measure the gaze and fixation patterns among novice and expert police officers to understand early-stage SA at different levels of professional experience. Participants included 23 novices (10 early, 13 intermediate) and 11 experienced officers and instructors in tactics and use of force. Visit duration and fixation order were measured while participants viewed various static images of staged encounters. Results showed that all participants fixated longer on targets compared to the periphery, and fixated earlier on suspects’ faces compared to hands, bodies, or the environment. Further, experts fixated earlier on hands and spent less time scanning the environment than early novices. The current findings reveal eye movement patterns while officers engaged in typical police encounters. Future research can inform evidence-based police training to achieve optimal SA and minimize negative outcomes in training and operational field settings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5047
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • expertise
  • eye tracking
  • fixation
  • police
  • police encounters
  • situational awareness
  • visuomotor neuroscience

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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