Company uses cognitive neuroscience to help train police officers

An expert took his knowledge of neuroscience and created a company that can help people train the non-conscious parts of their brains.

Training brains: Scientist uses neuroscience to help train the non-conscious parts of minds

TechRepublic's Karen Roby spoke with Jonathan Page, president and co-founder of Cognitive Command Group, about cognitive neuroscience and how it helps law enforcement. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Karen Roby: Jon, explain to us and our audience about cognitive neuroscience, how training the non-conscious part of the brain will help.

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Jonathan Page: The brain has two systems, what you're consciously aware of, and then the non-conscious part, where almost everything happens. That's where your drives and biases and urges and impulses all come up from this, what we call the backchannel of the brain, the non-conscious part of the brain. Most of our actions and behaviors are initiated there a lot of times without our awareness. When we are thinking through something and thinking through answers or trying to problem-solve, we can direct our conscious brain to kind of override some of those impulses and urges and really take control of what we're doing and what we're thinking and how we're behaving. But when we're under stress, our brain is built for the non-conscious brain to take over, to help us with survival, or to help us get out of a scrape, something like that.

With police officers, when they've been trained how to respond in certain ways to help people out, to de-escalate events, things like that, when stress starts to rise and get higher, then their non-conscious brain really starts to take over the processing. And that's where even really good officers can do things they later regret is because the non-conscious brain and those urges and impulses to say something or do something happens, and they might regret that later. What our training does is to focus on that non-conscious part of the brain. Most training is focused on the conscious part where you tell people what they should do, what the rules are, be sure you consider these three things, but when the non-conscious brain takes over, it hasn't gone through that training. Our training is to train that non-conscious part of the brain so that officers can stay in control better. They're more likely to keep their conscious brain active and solving problems. And when urges and impulses do kind of bubble up, they're more appropriate, to begin with.

Karen Roby: Jon, there are obviously few professions where the stress is higher than for these officers. These guys and gals are out there and put in very dangerous situations oftentimes, and the amount of stress that they're under is so significant. So, Talk a little bit about how you parlayed your research into law enforcement and being the co-founder of this company? How did it all come together with your background?

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Jonathan Page: That's a great question because my background is not in law enforcement. As a scientist, I was studying how the brain processes information like memory, imagination, recall and awareness, those types of things. I wanted to see how it changed under stress, so I started doing some research with law enforcement officers because in training, they put themselves under stress, and so I can follow them to see what happens. And I have a portable EEG that fits over the head for a skullcap that has about 40 electrodes attached, so I can measure how the brain is processing information in real-time.

This portable unit, I was able to take it with me over to London, to the London Metropolitan Police in the U.K., because they have a driver training program over there where they train driving at high speeds in and with the general public. So, it's very stressful for their officers to do this type of training. I was able to put the cap on officers while they were driving at 120, 130 miles an hour in the public and measure what their brain was doing. I saw how the brain kind of shifted its processing to take care of the things that it really needed to take care of. The non-conscious brain took over to make sure they were staying safe. It showed things like tunnel vision and auditory exclusion, those types of things that happen to the brain when it's under stress. Taking that information to help officers, not just when driving, but in other types of stress, is kind of how we moved from the research into a company to give officers an advantage in stressful situations.

Karen Roby: It's not just police officers, law enforcement, that you guys are reaching out to, as well. You're also taking this work to the industrial realm.

Jonathan Page: Yes, we are. What's interesting about this is it's really ... our system is understanding how the brain works and then developing training to work with the brain. A lot of times training what we think we want to train, and we try to hammer things home. It's just kind of hammering into the brain, and it's not really effective. Our methodology is about how to work with the brain, but it's content-agnostic. It doesn't matter what the content is or what you want to train. It's a system to train the brain. We've moved it into industrial safety, and we've seen really large changes in that area. We've moved it into construction as well. Every area we go into, we see really large changes in behavior, which is important. It's not just convincing somebody of something or changing their mind or their attitude toward something, but it's real behavioral change that we're seeing.

Karen Roby: Now I think it's pretty fascinating to think, Jon, about how technology has enabled training. I mean, in so many ways, we've seen how it's been improved, but it's really fascinating to see and to think about how you can impact outcomes in a much more positive light by harnessing that technology and putting it out there.

Jonathan Page: Yeah, and it's really technology that allowed us to understand the brain as much as we already understand it, and there's still so much more to learn. But then to take that technology and use it in the way we're training on the non-conscious side of the brain, it would be extremely difficult to do without technology. You have to train the non-conscious brain in a completely different way. It's a completely different approach than to training when you're consciously aware or listening to somebody train you in an area. Ours is down to one to five-minute exercises that you do at different times throughout the day repeatedly. And so technology allows us to create those kinds of mental exercises and then schedule them in like a menu list throughout a day, throughout the person's workday or work shift to give them the dosage that they need at the right times over a period of time to start rewiring the brain for safety.

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