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Police stress : the psychological and psychophysiological responses of police officers to occupational stressors

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McLaren, SJ 1997 , 'Police stress : the psychological and psychophysiological responses of police officers to occupational stressors', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

The occupation of law enforcement has been heavily researched. This research has focused on the antecedents and consequences of police stress. Several limitations were noted in the existing body of research, particularly the reliance primarily on self-report data, and the tendency not to include comparison groups.
This investigation examined aspects of police stress, incorporating psychophysiological and psychological measures of stress. Further, comparison groups were included to index the relative stressfulness of police work and the ways in which police officers responded to aspects of their work. Three studies were conducted.
Study One examined the issue of police work being highly stressful, taking into account limitations noted in the general occupational stress literature. In this study, male police officers and clerical workers monitored their heart rate, blood pressure and self-reported levels of stress and arousal over a two week period. Measurements on work days, during which stressful events occurred, were compared to non-event work days and nonwork days. Support was evident for the distinction between work and nonwork days, and support was demonstrated for differences between different types of work days. The research indicated that police work was not more stressful than clerical work, but the nature of the stressors experienced were different for the two occupations.
The results of this study indicated the importance of stressful situations in the responses of police officers, particularly attending the scene of a serious car accident, delivering a death notification, and appearing as a witness in court. These work situations were further investigated in the second and third studies. The work situations were investigated within the transactional model of stress.
In Study Two, the police officers' cognitive and behavioural responses to the work situations were investigated. The officers were interviewed at length about their experience of each of the target situations. They completed a number of scales measuring cognitive appraisal and coping. Results demonstrated that police officers appraised these situations as challenging and as having to be accepted. Results also demonstrated that the police officers employed problem-focused, emotion-focused and dysfunctional coping strategies during a stressful situation, but relied on emotion-focused coping strategies after a situation had ended.
Study Three tested the psychophysiological responses of police officers to the work situations, and the relationship between these responses and cognitive appraisal and coping. Personalised guided imagery was employed to expose the police officers to previous experiences of the target situations. Additionally, two control situations, a period of non-stressful exercise and a neutral situation, were included in the design. A control group of undergraduate students was employed to compare the officers' psychophysiological responses to the control situations and one stressful situation. Guided imagery scripts were constructed using a four stage methodology. The four stages incorporated setting the scene, the events leading up to the situation, a description of the behaviours and responses to the situation, and the moments following the situation. Imagery scripts were presented, in a counterbalanced order, during a single laboratory session. Participants completed visual analogue scales following each script presentation. Results demonstrated several differences in psychophysiological and subjective responses to the common stressful situation, but not to the two control situations. Analyses of the police data indicated that psychophysiological arousal and subjective responses were higher for the three work situations compared to the control situations. Differential patterns of responding were demonstrated for the three work scripts. The results clearly demonstrated that the various aspects of stressful encounters were related to the subjective and, to a lesser extent, the psychophysiological responses of police officers to those encounters.
The research conducted indicated that police work was no more stressful than clerical work, and that police officers' responded psychophysiologically and subjectively to various situations in ways similar to people not engaged in police work. However, it was evident that particular aspects of police work placed greater demands on the coping abilities of police officers. The results have clear implications for the management of stress in police officers.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:McLaren, SJ
Keywords: Police
Copyright Information:

Copyright 1997 the author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Thesis (PhD)--University of Tasmania, 1997. Includes bibliographical references

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