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Department of Psychological Sciences

Richard Rianoshek, Ph.D.

Advisor: Dr. Leon Rappoport

Dissertation Title

A study exploring the psychosocial antecedents of police stress

Dissertation Abstract

The general aim of this project is to examine the psychosocial dynamics associated with police work and explore, in this context, the utility of an explanatory model for many of the personal problems of police officers. Central to the thesis is the issue that has come to be discussed under the rubric "the police personality." Existing research is reviewed suggesting that a police personality does exist, in the sense that specific identifiable personality characteristics develop as a result of police socialization experiences. The evidence on this point is well founded. Less clear is whether individual personality dynamics predispose certain people to gravitate toward a police career and if so, what are the job related implications for that personality type. The main focus of the work to be reported, therefore, is upon the early childhood experiences of police officers as they relate to more recent social-emotional issues.

The thesis examines three related questions: (a) does police behavior and experience, including the decision to become a police officer, have its antecedent in early childhood experience, (b) is the subsequent form of interpersonal dynamics modified as a result of this early experience, and (c) can police performance be predicted from data about such personality characteristics. Depth interviews with twenty metropolitan police officers serve as the primary data source for the investigation. The results of the qualitative analysis, although not definitive, provide affirmative evidence for the first two issues but not the last. Furthermore, although these data do not point to the existence of a single general psychological structure--that is, a "police personality"--several trends or themes emerge as important. Specifically, a clear decision to become a police officer was often made in high school or before. Clear-cut psychologically driven expectations about police work were typically present. These expectations were usually not fulfilled resulting in dissatisfaction. Childhood fantasies and experience were often related to policing themes. Siblings were occasionally law violators. Finally, police sometimes were important role models.

The implications of these findings, including strategies for recruitment, training, and management, as well as suggestions for future research are discussed.


Ph.D., Psychology, Kansas State University, 1986