Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Holding Eye Contact Is Critical When Police Confront Hysterical Citizens

Date:
April 12, 2007
Source:
University of New Hampshire
Summary:
Holding eye contact, or "gaze," with hysterical citizens is one of the most effective methods police officers can use to calm them down, according to new research conducted by the University of New Hampshire that relies on footage of the FOX TV show "COPS."

Holding eye contact, or “gaze,” with hysterical citizens is one of the most effective methods police officers can use to calm them down, according to new research conducted by the University of New Hampshire that relies on footage of the FOX TV show “COPS.”

The study by Mardi Kidwell, assistant professor of communication, “’Calm Down!’: the role of gaze in the interactional management of hysteria by the police,” was published recently in Discourse Studies.

According to Kidwell’s research, regulating gaze is central to face-to-face interaction. For police officers, it’s an important factor in gaining compliance from and calming hysterical citizens.

“A great deal of police work involves encountering people who are in crisis, people who are distraught, agitated and sometimes hysterical over the circumstances that have necessitated a police response. Moreover, as police departments nationwide transition from a more traditional model of policing, with its emphasis on catching law-breakers, to a model of community policing, with its emphasis on prevention, they have sought to adapt more humanistic, more dialogic approaches to their communications with citizens,” Kidwell says.

Kidwell’s research relies on police-citizen interactions obtained from the FOX TV show “COPS,” now in its 19th season. She used footage from “COPS” because most research on police-citizen interaction does not rely on a real-time, in-the-moment unfolding of events. In addition, police departments are reluctant to provide footage of their police-citizen interactions.

In the “COPS” segment discussed in the study, two police officers are trying to calm down a woman whose grandson has been shot. The six-minute segment shows the officers arriving on the scene of the shooting, inspecting the victim, questioning witnesses, discussing the case with other officers and, finally, seeking to calm the victim’s grandmother, who herself has been shot at.

The officers are forced to use increasingly stronger verbal tactics – called directives – to get the woman to look at them as they try to calm her down. The woman repeatedly looks at the officers and then looks away, and continues to be hysterical. Finally, one officer gently touches the woman’s face and turns it toward him, forcing her to look at him. Eventually, the officers are able to keep eye contact with her long enough so as to calm her down, help her regain a normal breathing pattern and compose herself so she can drive to the hospital to see her grandson.

Kidwell has found that officers treat citizens’ (usually suspects’) refusal to gaze at them as resistance, and they will continue to pursue the citizens’ gaze in order to gain compliance. “In situations of someone’s extreme distraught-ness, refusal to gaze is associated with being ‘out of it.’ In other words, with being unable to attend to, or participate in, in any normal or competent way current interactional activities,” she says.

Kidwell analyzed more than 35 hours off footage and hundreds of police-citizen interactions as part of her research. She found that police rely on holding gaze to calm individuals in a number of situations, including getting them to cooperate during questioning, keeping them from interfering with emergency workers, and gaining their compliance during arrests.

“There is another, perhaps less institutionally obvious responsibility that the officers are undertaking in this case. This is a responsibility that has to do with being a ‘helper,’ here, specifically with emotional work. This case and others that involve, for example, a small child whose parents have been arrested and a woman who has been abused by her husband, demonstrate that police responsibilities also include simply soothing people who are in crisis and trying to ameliorate their emotional suffering,” Kidwell says.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of New Hampshire. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of New Hampshire. "Holding Eye Contact Is Critical When Police Confront Hysterical Citizens." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 April 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070412100819.htm>.
University of New Hampshire. (2007, April 12). Holding Eye Contact Is Critical When Police Confront Hysterical Citizens. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070412100819.htm
University of New Hampshire. "Holding Eye Contact Is Critical When Police Confront Hysterical Citizens." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070412100819.htm (accessed August 29, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Friday, August 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Treadmill 'trips' May Reduce Falls for Elderly

Treadmill 'trips' May Reduce Falls for Elderly

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) Scientists are tripping the elderly on purpose in a Chicago lab in an effort to better prevent seniors from falling and injuring themselves in real life. (Aug.28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) It’s an unusual condition with a colorful name. Kids with “Alice in Wonderland” syndrome see sudden distortions in objects they’re looking at or their own bodies appear to change size, a lot like the main character in the Lewis Carroll story. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stopping Schizophrenia Before Birth

Stopping Schizophrenia Before Birth

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) Scientists have long called choline a “brain booster” essential for human development. Not only does it aid in memory and learning, researchers now believe choline could help prevent mental illness. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Personalized Brain Vaccine for Glioblastoma

Personalized Brain Vaccine for Glioblastoma

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) Glioblastoma is the most common and aggressive brain cancer in humans. Now a new treatment using the patient’s own tumor could help slow down its progression and help patients live longer. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins