Situational Awareness and the Mind: Rethinking Cooper's Colors

At some point in the 1970s, Jeff Cooper created what is often called the Color Code. When he originally thought it up, and as he taught it, his purpose was to describe a shooter’s “…capacity…to cross the psychological barrier that inhibits [the] ability to take deadly action,” i.e., his or her mental preparation to press the trigger on a live target.

In Cooper’s original intent, one could scale from Condition White, in which one is completely unprepared for combat, to Condition Red, in which one is psychologically committed to combat, regardless of whether the fight has actually begun or not. Essentially, he recognized many people must mentally gear up for violence, and his code traced that progression to help the mental switch.

That is not, however, how Cooper’s Colors are generally used in the modern firearms training world.  

Instead, they have been reinterpreted as shorthand to describe an individual’s “situational awareness.”  Per this interpretation, the one most commonly cited in blogs and articles across the firearms community, an individual in Condition White is relaxed and unaware of what is happening around them. In Condition Yellow they’re in a state of “relaxed awareness”—not specifically paying attention to anything, but generally aware of what’s going on around them. In Condition Orange, they’re focused and specifically paying attention to something they’ve identified as a potential threat. And in Condition Red they’ve identified a threat and are completely focused on it, ready to respond to anything it does. It’s a simple, easy-to-remember system.

Unfortunately, whereas Cooper’s original Color Code is an effective tool to help ramp up to a mental state suited for combat, the “situational awareness” version so commonly used today is essentially useless and misleading. It fundamentally misunderstands how the brain scans for and responds to threats, and thus can harm shooters by leading them astray during training and development of their situational awareness skills...

Continued at Breach Bang Clear...