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Developing adaptive skills in covert policing


Developing adaptive skills in covert policing

Despite technological advancements in the safety and security domain, the human factor is considered more important than ever. A key area of interest is the proactive prevention of criminal activities (e.g., terrorist attacks) through the use of covert operations. To effectively carry out such operations it is imperative that police officers have the ability to naturally adapt in unexpected situations. Although officers are trained to deal with specific demands, situations and incidents, they receive less opportunities to adjust their tactics during situational changes. The ability to make effective behavioral adjustments are considered ‘tacit knowledge’, and is thereby classified as an untrainable skill: You either have it or you don’t, and if it won’t come through field experience you’ll never learn it. The current project aims to investigate such behavioral adjustments – identified as adaptability – and examine if and how people can learn to adapt in changing situation.

Type of research

To investigate adaptive skills, the current project will draw on two broader methodological aims: On the one hand, we need to conduct literature reviews to establish a theoretical framework of adaptive skills. On the other hand, we need to experimentally evaluate the efficacy of adaptability by running a series of behavioral tests.


Adaptability; undercover interactions, rapport; trust; investigative interviewing


Three students can collaborate on this project. Please contact BA-thesis coordinator J.M. Gutteling ( if you are interested in this assignment.


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Martin, A. J. (2017). Adaptability—what it is and what it is not: Comment on Chandra and Leong (2016). American Psychologist72, 696-698. 

McFarland, Challagalla, & Shervani (2006). Influence tactics for adaptive selling. Journal of Marketing, 70, 103-117.

Meissner, Surmon-Böhr, Oleszkiewicz, & Alison (2017). Developing an evidence-based perspective on interrogation: A review of the US government’s high-value detainee interrogation group research program. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law23, 438-457.