Psychology, Extreme Environments, and Counter-terrorism Operations

Nathan Smith, Emma Barrett

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Counter-terrorism (CT) operations may involve intelligence-gathering, reconnaissance, surveillance, or direct action (e.g., arrest) to disrupt terrorist activities, and can take place in domestic settings and on international deployments. They involve defence, security, and law enforcement personnel, who often enter risky and dangerous settings, exposing themselves to diverse physical, psychological, and social stressors. The extent to which a person adjusts and adapts to these stressors has implications for safety, performance, health, and well-being. Despite their importance, the psychological aspects of CT operations have received scant research attention. This paper explores what we might learn from the research on performance and health in other extreme environments to support the work of CT professionals operating in hazardous settings. Guided by a model of stress and coping in extreme environments, we review potential physical, psychological, and social stressors and discuss mitigating factors and coping strategies. A systematic, evidence-based understanding of stress and coping in dangerous settings will be of value to those involved in planning CT operations, enhancing understanding of the impact that stressors and constraints could have on the safety, performance, and health of operational personnel, and providing pointers to effective mitigation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBehavioral sciences of terrorism and political aggression
Early online date26 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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