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The civilian's dilemma: Civilians exhibit automatic defensive responses to the police.

Interactions between police officers and civilians incur for both police and civilians the possibility of danger due to a nonzero likelihood of encountering a physical threat. A body of work examining the implications of threat processes during police-civilian interactions focuses almost exclusively on the perspective of police officers, under the auspice that police use-of-force decisions stem from perceptions and misperceptions of threat (e.g., research on the shooter bias). Almost no research has examined these dynamics from the perspective of civilians whose encounter with police involves interacting with an armed and potentially dangerous individual. In the current work, we advance the idea that just as police may respond to civilians as threats, civilians may respond to the police as threats. That is, among civilians, encountering the police may evoke a combination of defensive bodily and behavioral responses. Across three studies ( N = 603) each utilizing unique measures of defensive behavioral and physiological responding, we found that people more rapidly avoid police than nonpolice, demonstrate enhanced defensive freeze responses to police than nonpolice, and evince larger defensive physiological preparation toward police than nonpolice. In light of these patterns, we discuss the implications of defensive responses for shaping civilian behavior in real-world encounters with the police. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved).

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