Law Enforcement and Deadly Decisions: What the Science Tells Us

When unarmed people like Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Reeva Steenkamp are killed, we demand to know what impelled their killers to act. Were the armed men who killed them truly in fear for their lives, and if so why? Were these killings outright murders or reasonable self-defense? Our laws require answers to these questions, since the difference between self-defense, manslaughter, and murder can depend on the perpetrator’s state of mind. But no matter how compelling these questions seem, these are the wrong ones to ask, because they don’t really have answers.

Neuroscientists and psychologists now know that emotions and thought processes are created by incredibly complex biochemical feedback systems beyond our conscious awareness. Numerous studies have demonstrated that our brains determine a course of action up to 10 seconds before we become conscious of “our” decisions . Furthermore, at every moment we all have multiple thoughts, emotions, sensations, physical responses, and memories that impel us to act or inhibit action, most of which are beyond our awareness.

As Nobel-prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman puts it in Thinking Fast and Slow, we have two decision-making capacities, fast and slow. The fast system makes most of our decisions —> Read More Here


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