Brain training may help avoid civilian shooting casualties

Washington:Mistaken civilian shooting casualties arise from problems with attention – an “itchy brain,” rather than an “itchy trigger finger,” a new study has found.

The findings imply that the tendency to pull the trigger in error can not only be predicted with cognitive tests but can also be overcome by training in response inhibition.

“Shooting a firearm is a complex activity, and when you couple that action with the conditions encountered by military and law enforcement personnel, firearms training can be even more complicated,” said Adam Biggs, a visiting scholar at Duke University’s Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience.

“Cognitive tests and training offer some exciting new methods for enhancing shooting abilities, and thereby avoiding some of the most critical shooting errors, such as civilian casualties,” Biggs added.

In the study, 88 young adults played a simulated shooting game called “Reload: Target Down.” The objective in the game is to shoot armed people as quickly and as accurately as possible, while avoiding unarmed civilians.

After playing, the participants took surveys that assessed their ability to pay attention, signs of motor impulsivity such as finger tapping or restless behaviours, features of autism spectrum disorders and other characteristics.

Individuals also took baseline computerised tests of their ability to withhold responses and to do visual search.

The scientists found that the more attention problems a person had, the more likely he or she was to shoot civilians in the simulation.

The study also included some cognitive training to see what might make a difference.

One group underwent training designed to prevent civilian casualties by enhancing response inhibition through a series of computer-based exercises.

The other group underwent cognitive training unrelated to the shooting task to show whether any kind of training sessions would make a difference.

On the last day of the study, all of the participants played the shooting game again. The scientists found that people who had completed response inhibition training shot fewer civilians than they did before training. In contrast, the control group’s performance was unchanged.

One potential concern about response inhibition training was that participants were simply trained to shoot less. But, “that answer is a definite ‘no,’” Biggs added.

“The people in response inhibition training shot more of the right targets and fewer of the wrong ones during their post-training simulations,” Biggs said.

In addition, the more attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms a subject reported, the more likely he or she was to improve with response inhibition training, researchers said.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.