Training – Can You See What I See? – Blog 21-20

In previous blogs, I have written about how you can affect your emotional response through mental rehearsal and scenario training. In recent research published on the Force Science Research website; the findings of a study once again confirms your ability to control your cognitive, perceptual, and performance psychology which may provide insights into how you can improve decision-making, performance, and emotional effectiveness during a critical incident.

In a 2010 report, Force Science Institute presented its findings from eye scan research conducted with Dr. Joan Vickers. In their research, it was observed that, when compared to novice shooters, the experts perceived critical cues faster and more accurately during a scenario-based shooting event. Unlike the novice shooters, the experts consistently demonstrated a controlled focus, which allowed them to predict what, where, when, and how the incident would unfold with a high degree of certainty.

Vision-related research has continued to support its importance on performance. The research has shown that intentionally focusing the visual processes (i.e., choosing what to look at and when) helps you in information processing, improves you recognizing critical information, and helps you to control your emotional response which is necessary for your best response.

The research subjects were police officers, who are constantly placed under circumstances that require decision making under stress that can arouse intense emotions. The highly trained individual’s eye scan indicated they were purposely looking for and identifying critical cues missed by a novice. This ability to effectively read the environment proved to be a crucial element of excellent performance.

The studies have shown that intentionally focusing (i.e., choosing what to look at and when) could benefit information processing, improve the detection of critical information, and simultaneously facilitate the emotional regulation necessary for high performance.

Neurophysiological studies continue to support the conclusions that “purposely driving” human emotions are beneficial. Athletes have learned various techniques to relax before an event, including positive visualization, verbalization, and breathing. They have learned how to “psych up” before competitions that require explosive action. And, they have learned to regulate and focus their emotional intensity for precision performance during competition.

It was noted in this report:

“Dr. Joan Vickers was the first to experimentally document one of the most significant components of elite performance.  While studying Olympic-level biathlon athletes, Dr. Vickers observed that several performed exceptionally well under high physiological and psychological stress levels. Dr. Vickers observed that these experts held their visual focus longer before making their shots. Conversely, choking under pressure was associated with changes in visual attention and a fractured and disorganized gaze pattern. Dr. Vickers hypothesized that a relationship exists between visual and attentional focus, emotional regulation, and performance in high-stress situations. Visual dominance appeared to facilitate emotional effectiveness.”

Neurophysiological research from various areas continues to affirm that Conscious focused attention and visual focus facilitates emotional regulation, decision-making, and performance in elite athletes.

“Directed visual attention is controlled by the part of the brain known as the orbitofrontal cortex. This part of the brain directs the eyes to seek out the information that composes the what, where, when, and how of expertise. High-tech brain measurement of athletes performing at high exertion levels indicated a competition between the orbitofrontal cortex and the amygdala (that part of the brain associated primarily with emotional responses).

The orbitofrontal cortex is activated as committed athletes rationalize pushing through pain. It drives their motivations and “will to accomplish the task.” The amygdala competes with the orbitofrontal cortex by encouraging athletes to stop whatever is causing their pain.”

Athletes who perform well under stress have a well-practiced set of skills that allow them to perform automatically and focus on the desired outcome without getting distracted by the process.

Their experience arms the athletes with a deep understanding of the game, allowing them to maintain an external focus of attention on the most relevant and critical cues for fast and accurate decision-making and performance. They use their vision to focus their attention on critical tasks and goals while regulating their emotional arousal during their performance at the same time. The goal is to train yourself to identify relevant tasks and then to focus your vision and attention on these tasks–and not on the distracting processes or internal messages of failure, defeat, or pain. Those who can expertly “read the play” and then direct their attention through what they choose to perceive visually (i.e., their visual process) can facilitate emotional regulation, expert decision making, and elite tactical performance.

You can view this report here: New Research on Vision and Emotional Regulation for Effective Performance

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

– Marcel Proust