Watch: The Vest That Hurts You ‘Till You Learn

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Training is supposed to prepare you for the worst. The repetition of movements, reactions, and actions codifies them as responses. But many inexperienced soldiers and officers still fumble, and that is because training sessions most often have one critical component missing that sets them apart from the events they’re meant to simulate: fear. A Canadian firm has now found a novel way of applying a new technology to bring fear to training sessions.

StressVests, made by a company of the same name, may look a little weird, but they provide an invaluable experience. They work in a way somewhat similar to laser tag. Users wear vests with back, front, and side laser-sensitive panels, as well as special hats, and are equipped with laser emitting arms. When a participant is struck by a laser shot, the vest transmits a signal to a training belt that in turn delivers either a vibration or an electric shock. The shock’s level can be adjusted from merely discomforting to somewhat more serious.

The vests are useful for applying negative reinforcement through what the company calls a “pain penalty.” The threat of physical discomfort makes trainees nervous, helping simulate a realistic scenario, rather than one sanitised from the stress experienced during real-life events. This allows trainees learn to cope with the effects of sympathetic nervous system reactions (for example, fight or flight response).

According to StressVest, the Department of Homeland Security, the New York City Police Department, the Air Force Space Command and others are already using their vests in live training sessions.