!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Attitude Adjustment

Monday, July 31, 2006

Attitude Adjustment

Shankar Vedantam of the Washington Post published another article today on how extreme partisans process (or fail to process) information that contradicts their pet beliefs. (In an earlier post I discussed Vedantam's July 23 article on partisans' susceptibility to the hostile media phenomenon.)

After I finished today's article, I found myself frustrated because there were no clues concerning how to approach the problem of opening a partisan's closed mind. I decided to hunt around for some intelligence on this question, and, though I haven't yet found good material to report, I did come upon related research that is useful.

Randy Garner, a professor of behavioral sciences at the College of Criminal Justice of Sam Houston State University, published an article last year in Applied Psychology in Criminal Justice that addresses Police Attitudes: The Impact of Experience After Training (pdf). Garner's conclusions concerning how new police officers' attitudes1 change between their time at the police academy and the end of their first year on the job have relevance for just about any occupation.

Garner reports:
  • Direct behavioral experience can have a strong impact on attitude change. I.e., attitudes people develop as students can change markedly once they've experienced life in the real-world of their chosen profession.

  • The most important on-the-job influences for rookie police officers are their Field Training Officers (experienced officers who guide on-the-job learning), fellow officers, and the police culture.

  • People whose attitudes have changed are often not aware of these changes.
In light of his research, Garner makes two main recommendations. Again, these recommendations have applicability outside the police station.
  • An occasional attitude check (generally, through a survey) can be a good way of catching any drifting of attitudes toward countenancing unacceptable behavior (e.g., lying in court). Since people are often not aware that their attitudes have shifted, collecting data becomes important for producing self-awareness, as a first step toward achieving an attitude readjustment.

  • Role models help reinforce desirable attitudes and behaviors. As Garner explains, "Rookie officers may have few well-formed attitudes regarding the experiences encountered during training. As a result, police agencies and training professionals have the opportunity to forge positive associations through specific, compelling, and direct experiences that occur during the formative training period ..."
Garner sums up the conclusion he draws from his research with this thought: "Through attention to these [attitude forming] issues, police organizations and training personnel can play a substantial role in the attitudinal development and shifts that may be experienced by those beginning their professional police service."

1 An attitude is a predisposition a person has that guides the person's behavior.