Texas State research explores first responders’ use of force, reaction times, safety and stress: Newsroom: Texas State University

Stress impacts male and female first responders differently in active shooter incidents

Law enforcement officers are often exposed to a variety of high stress scenarios such as encounters with civilians which can induce a significant amount of physiological or psychological stress. Exposure to these scenarios results in significant increases in various stress markers such as blood levels of cortisol, adrenaline (i.e. epinephrine/norepinephrine) and salivary cortisol (CORT), α-amylase (AA) and secretory immunoglobulin A (SIgA). Additionally, some studies have shown that how stress affects men and women can differ significantly.

Recent work has shown that men exhibit a greater hormonal stress response (CORT) to acute stress exposure compared to women. Thus, a recent study from the MAP Lab and the ALERRT Center aimed to dig deeper into these differences by exposing men and women to acute stress in the form of an active shooter scenario.

Fifteen men and 16 women participated in a brief (~50 seconds) active shooter scenario involving professional actors that included an active shooter as well as four casualties. Participants were equipped with a Glock 17T pistol that fired blanks (i.e. no projectiles) and had to shoot the attacker if they were currently identified as a threat. Blood samples were taken 15 min before and 15 min after the active shooting scenario, and saliva samples were taken four times: 30 min and 5 min before, as well as 5 min and 30 min after the shooting scenario asset. Samples were analyzed for stress and oxidative stress markers: blood epinephrine, norepinephrine, hydrogen peroxide; saliva-AA, SIgA, CORT and uric acid.

Statistical analysis revealed that both men and women experienced significant increases in stress markers in response to shooting exercise: epinephrine, AA, and uric acid. Additionally, women had lower levels of CORT, uric acid, hydrogen peroxide, and AA.

These results demonstrate that men and women are affected in the same way by exposure to acute stress; however, females tend to have lower overall stress and oxidative stress markers.

It should be noted that these results can be influenced by a number of factors such as age and menstrual cycle. The work in progress within the MAP laboratory/ALERRT center aims to further study the effect of sex and the menstrual cycle in relation to the biological markers of stress. These findings have potentially major implications for people working in high-stress professions such as law enforcement and military personnel.

Read the research article published in Comprehensive Psychoneuroendocrinology: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666497621000205

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