If It Seems Like Police Live In A Different Reality It Is Because They Actually Do

A career in policing leads to some psychological side effects that fundamentally alter the reality of law enforcement officers in surprising and scary ways.

My recent interest in exploring the unique psychological components of policing and what they infer about the thoughts and actions of police officers has led me down some pretty interesting territory.

In ‘Every LEO Needs to Read This: Advice from A Police Psychologist‘ I discussed how heavy a toll hypervigilance plays on an officers mental health and personal life.

The follow up to that article went more into hypervigilance, and how it makes law enforcement officers more prone to hallucinations, was ‘The Scientific Reason Cops Are Highly Vulnerable to Experiencing Hallucinations‘.

Then in my last entry I wrote ‘The Reason Why Police Experience So Many Paranormal Encounters‘ which discusses how their unreliable perceptions make them far more likely to report paranormal experiences than regular people.

This will all make much more sense to you if you check those out before continuing on.

After writing these a found another wonderful article that was expressing those things I had been curating and talking about. The article is ‘Even Scientists Act Superstitious at Sea‘ by Erica Cirino at Nautilus. (excerpts only below)

It turns out that if what you do is really risky and dangerous, or involves lots of uncertainty, then you’re more likely to hold and practice superstitions. It’s not just sailing. Gambling, Wall Street trading, and baseball are just a few more examples. A hitter on a hot streak may refuse to wash his uniform or undergarments as long as he keeps getting on base, while some players name their bats to raise their game. And pitchers avoid stepping on the foul line when they come on or off the field. October is supposed to be an unlucky month for stock markets, a superstition that has stuck since the early 1900s…

“Superstitions create a form of structure in an unstructured world,” says Jennifer Whitson, of UCLA Anderson School of Management, a researcher who studies human behavior. Whitson calls the human inclination to seek and identify patterns between random or unrelated things or events, especially during times of uncertainty, “illusory pattern perception.” She’s found it’s this urge to connect disparate factors that appears to give rise to belief in superstitions…

For instance, in one experiment, part of a 2008 study, Whitson and her colleague Adam Galinsky asked 36 undergraduate college students to identify objects in 24 photos—otherwise known as the “snowy pictures task.” Half of the photos contained a grainy but distinguishable object while the other half were manipulated to be completely unidentifiable.

Before looking at the photos, Whitson had the students perform a basic computer-based test that required them to match widely recognized symbols with simple concepts (a sideways 8 with infinity, for example). The computer was programmed to give the students feedback about whether their answers were right or wrong. Half of the students, in order to induce a feeling of lack of control, received random feedback completely uncorrelated with the accuracy of their answers, while the other half were given accurate feedback. When they then looked at the “snowy” photos, students made to feel a lack of control more often reported seeing images of animals, people, or foods where none existed, compared with the students who received accurate feedback. “The need to be and feel in control is so strong,” Whitson and Galinsky write, “that individuals will produce a pattern from noise to return the world to a predictable state.”

Eric Hamerman, assistant professor at Iona College’s Hagan School of Business, has found that feeling in control via superstition tends to boost one’s optimism about the future—something which might be helpful to a sailing crew. In one 2013 study, he and his co-author Gita Johar asked their subjects to answer two sets of six trivia questions in two rounds, for a total of 24. Each round of questions was featured in a colored font against a different colored background (red font against blue, white font against orange).

The subjects received feedback on their answers after each set of six questions—but the feedback wasn’t entirely honest, just like in Whitson’s study: Subjects got positive feedback, whether they were right or not, with only one font-background color combination, which thereby made it the “lucky” one. When the subjects were told that there was going to be one more trivia session, and that they could choose which font and background color to use for the quiz, 64 percent chose the “lucky” one, the one linked to positive feedback in the previous rounds. Hamerman and Johar concluded, “Engaging in superstitious behavior creates a subsequent illusion of control over future outcomes.”

Despite the boost in optimism it can afford, being superstitious appears unhelpful, at least when it comes to investing. According to a 2014 paper titled “Do superstitious traders lose money?” irrationality is costly. There’s a Chinese superstition, shared by the Taiwanese, that the number “8” is lucky and “4” is unlucky. When the researchers examined limit orders (an offer to trade shares at a given price) in the Taiwanese stock market, they found that the most superstitious quintile of investors—which disproportionately submitted more orders at 8 than 4—notched returns on certain trades that were approximately 9 percent a year lower than those of the least superstitious quintile.

All of the factors that cause superstition exist within the policing career. The uncertainty, perceived sense of danger, hypervigilance and many other factors all make police prone to superstitions just as much as hallucinations and the paranormal. So what are some police superstitions?

From ‘Cops & Superstitions‘ at Officer.com:

Friday the 13th is a day notoriously linked with ill-fortune, bad calls, and bad karma
Dead bodies always happen in 3’s or 6’s.
Same goes for suicide attempts.
Never say the word “Quiet” (normally referred to as the “Q” word) in any squad room in the United States. Ditto for saying, “It’s slow” or “I’m bored”.
Never leave the house without kissing your significant others on the way to work…
Also, pet the dog(s) or cat(s)
Never make definite plans for immediately after shift.
The full moon brings out the aluminum foil brigade.
Always bring your lucky gear; a special pair of handcuffs, feathers, special pens, etc
Dress in exactly the same order each day.
Dry firing your gun a specific number of times before going to work: pull, rack pull, rack pull, etc
Sitting in the same chair every day in the patrol briefing room.

Here is a similar but shorter list from IronGuys.org with a bit of overlap:

Never say “It’s quiet”.
Never say the S or B word: “It’s slow” or “I’m bored”.
Never make definite plans for immediately after your shift—as you won’t make it.
Carry/Wear a lucky coin/medal/object.
Make a specific gesture or say a certain phrase before hitting the street.
A hot/dangerous call will come if you need to use the bathroom, if you are hungry, if your patrol car is low on gas, or if you forgot some crucial piece of equipment.
Don’t look at your watch 15 minutes before the end of your shift.

For even more examples of superstitions straight from law enforcement officers check out this Reddit entitled ‘Police officers of reddit what superstitions do you have on duty.’

Now take all of this in together. If the stresses of a policing career lead to faulty perception with a greater tendency towards hallucination, while also causing magical beliefs of the supernatural and superstitious kind – how can we possibly expect individual officers to be anything less than neurotic, deluded danger to themselves and everyone else?

Police are forced into an entirely different reality in order to navigate the circumstances of their careers.

This is not a condemnation of individual officers or a mockery of their weaknesses. This is a recognition that the ruling class’ institution of policing destroys individual officers in order that they may then use them to destroy the rest of us on their behalf.

For the safety and sanity, the liberty and freedom and the autonomy and self-ownership of all – ABOLISH THE POLICE!


Alia Atreides

Hi, my name is Trevor. Thanks for reading!