Rangemaster 2015 Tactical Conference (II)

Continuing on about the Rangemaster  2015 Tactical Conference held annually in the Memphis area, I would like to cover the high points of some sessions I attended.

John Hearne’s Performance Under Fire presentation was so packed with information that it’s hard to take it all in. He does a fine job of refuting the pseudo-science that pervades the personal protection training community. His research is thorough, up to date, and can document fully what he says. An aspect of his approach I like is the way he tracks the original science to see if it has subsequently been refuted. John is one of the few people in the community besides myself who has any clue about how to do research. Here’s a clue; taking information from a firearms or martial arts trainer at face value is not a valid approach. I found numerous points in his presentation quite useful.

He stated that there are actually 21 documentable ‘flinch responses,’ most of which do not involve throwing one’s hands up in the air. So if there are a variety of responses, how do you know which one you will exhibit and is it going to be the same one every time? Years ago, Ken Hackathorn told me to watch surveillance video of convenience store robberies to see how many people threw their hands up in the air when they were startled. The answer is ‘not many.’

One of my personal pet peeves is the continuing blathering about Hick’s Law in the community. John made the point that Hick’s Law was largely discredited in the scientific community decades ago. For those unfamiliar, Hick’s Law states that the more options you have, the longer it will take to make a decision, by a square of the number of choices. The original study was sort of iffy anyway and subsequent research has shown that it’s only true in the absence of any familiarity with the task and absent any practice on the decision making.

The subsequent power law of practice states that the more practice you have at making the decision, the faster you get at making it. There’s some question as to whether the practice/speed relationship is logarithmic or exponential but there’s no question about the validity of the power law. Think about it in terms of when you are driving. When you see the brake lights of the car in front of you come on, there’s no conscious decision making about whether you’re going to hit the gas or the brake, unless you’re a 15 year old student driver.

An important point John made was about the career time of when law enforcement officers were feloniously assaulted. The average time was about eight years. I believe John referenced this from the 2006 FBI study Violent Encounters, A Study of Felonious Assaults on Our Nation’s Law Enforcement Officers, but I don’t recall for sure. This was important to me because it highlighted the factor of complacency in Negative Outcomes.

Although I lack the rigorous methodology that the FBI used, it’s my feeling this is also a factor in Negative Outcomes by Armed Private Citizens. Complacency can be a killer. We see it every day at gun ranges, gun shops, and shooting clubs. Complacency is why some people have one year of experience 20 times instead of 20 years of experience and is closely related to the “I know it all” syndrome. We have all had to deal with ‘know-it-alls’ and ‘spring-butts’ and never like it. It’s up to us individually to make sure we don’t fall into the trap and challenge others who have.

Just to show that John can put his money where his mouth is, he won the High Lawman and Second Place overall in the shooting contest.

Photo courtesy of Tiffany Johnson

Photo courtesy of Tiffany Johnson

I’ll have more about the Conference next time.

11 responses

  1. I flew AV-8B’s in the Marine Corps. The Naval Safety Center studied aviation mishaps versus pilot flight hours. One of the danger zones was around 500-800 hours when pilots’ confidence probably exceeded their skill level. However, the next significant rise in mishaps occurred around 1500-2000 hours. This was a combination of complacency combined with the extra tasks required of flight leadership and instructor roles. But it goes to show that complacency occurs everywhere, even with highly skilled professionals. I would venture to say that most armed citizens likely fall into the same category of the newer pilots; enough training and skill to potentially feel over-confident in their capabilities.

    1. Assuming the Armed Citizen has any training at all, I think your analogy to new pilots is apt.

  2. David From Alabama | Reply

    Regarding the comments about Hicks’ law, I have an anecdotal point of interest. For many years, Toyota stored parts in racks beside the production line. As cars would come by, technicians would read the job traveler, select the parts from the bins, and install them on the cars, all within about a 1 minute cycle time. At first, Toyota only made a few different models on the same production line. As they added models, the number of selections the technician made increased significantly. Toyota found that when a person had to make more than five choices, the picking error rate increased significantly. Each car in the sequence was also different, so for every vehicle the technician had to make a mental “changeover” between vehicles. (note they make about 500 cars per day, so the number of repetitions for a given person is very high).
    When the error rate increased, Toyota began kitting some of the parts and placing a bin inside the car so the technician didn’t have to make the choices under time pressure. The persons kitting the parts into bins were able to make more accurate selections because they were not under the same time pressure and they were able to pull multiple kits with the same contents, reducing the mental “changeover” required on the production line.

    This observation is far from a scientific study, so I’m not exactly sure what we can apply in a defensive shooting situation. I’d be interested to hear what more scholarly minded folks have to say on this topic.

  3. Richard Koefod | Reply

    Hi Claude:

    Thanks for this post. It clarifies what had been a question in my mind for quite a few years and that is whether consistent proper training helps overcome the problems people used to attribite to the Hicks Law issue.

    Please correct me if my present understanding if it is in error. Would the power law of practice essentially enbrace the concept that regular and consistent perfect practice produces improved performance; that to make practice perfect, one must begin slow; and that with slow perfect practice, speed and increased proficiency comes with time? I sense that this is what good dry fire practice may be about.

    1. The power law of practice relates to decision making. I’m not sure it relates to skill development. John mentioned to me that overlearning seems to develop cognitive skills even more than physical skills, but I don’t remember the exact context of the conversation.

  4. I have always had a problem with the hands up when startled concept. As I have never done that in my life when surprised, so it feels very unnatural to me.

  5. One other thing to keep in mind about Hick’s Law: the original research only tested situations where the choices appear in a visual array and are equally attractive to the user. This makes it almost completely unrelated to tactical decision making, in which responses are not presented in a visual array and which are rarely equally attractive.

    1. Exactly. Hick’s law is trotted out frequently in the tactical community despite it being of minimal importance.

  6. I still believe that Hick’s Law is relevant in the narrower realm of writing and implementing tactical directives, ROE or rules for the use of force. The more complex such rules are – E.g., the ridiculous Escalation of Force Cards the military created in Iraq and Afghanistan – the more hesitation they create. More sadly, these complex rules are often used offensively post-incident against the junior man at the tip of the spear. So, perhaps Hick’s Law still has some relevance in developing what and how we train folks. The older I get, the more I realize how little I know; so, I am open to thoughts and discussion on this.

    1. Except in the face of absolutely new information with no background or training, Hick’s Law was disproven a long time ago.

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