Military Psychology Research Paper

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Military psychology, a special discipline of work psychology, has as its primary focus the application of psychological principles and methods to the many facets of specialized work environments in innumerable military settings. Military psychologists work in government and university settings where they conduct both laboratory and field research. They also work in schools of medicine, or at military installation outpatient mental health or family counseling clinics. Psychologists provide clinical treatment to military populations, either by improving the lives of armed services personnel and their families away from home, or by providing support for those who are separated from loved ones while deployed to other countries with unfamiliar cultures and surroundings. Uniformed psychologists may work in troop units on field assignments where occasionally they deploy on dangerous military missions. Military psychologists supply guidance to military leaders and decision makers on behavioral issues of individual combatant or team performance, and on procedural matters to prevent or reduce physical and psychological casualties that accompany battlefield exigencies of war. Some psychologists serve as advisors at staff headquarters or for defense contract consultant groups. Occasionally, they serve on governmental legislative committees with oversight of a broad range of national personnel policies impacting millions of military personnel. In new military venues, psychologists analyze humanitarian and peacekeeping missions to determine procedures for saving military and civilian lives.

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Military forces helped psychology develop both as an applied profession and as a scientific discipline. From 1940 to 2000, military forces were the largest single employers and trainers of research psychologists. Following diminished threats of Soviet communist world domination (ca. 1989–90), countries downsized their military forces, and consequently decreased sponsorship, financial support, and personnel positions for military psychologists. Even so, in 2000, the three US armed services employ 300–400 clinical psychologists in uniformed service. About an equal number of research psychologists do military research. These include uniformed psychology officers and full time government civil servants in military research laboratories, and a sizable number of defense contractors, do military research.

1. Military Psychology’s Roots: World Wars I and II

Military personnel have always been interested in the psychology and behavior of leaders and warriors in combat. Writings about such Captains of War as Alexander the Great, Caesar, and Napoleon, and by military philosophers such as Carl von Clausewitz, readily strike an appreciation of the psychological implications of leading men in combat. Military strategists assess troop readiness by gathering intelligence information regarding an adversary’s vulnerabilities to gain tactical advantage in combat. However, throughout the nineteenth century there still was no ‘organized body of knowledge’ concerning the principles or practice of military psychology.

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, university-based intellectual study and laboratory research on predicting human behavior formally established the scientific discipline and profession of psychology, albeit predominately an academic one. World War I wedded applications of the relatively young discipline of psychology to the military. In helping to resolve national conscript and military personnel issues, psychologists’ close working relationships to the military catapulted psychology as an applied profession in the workplace. Many behavioral scientists in Europe, and hundreds of psychologists in the American Psychological Association (APA; founded in 1892), dedicated themselves to determining solutions to numerous wartime specialized military work-related issues. In 1917, Robert M. Yerkes, President of the APA and an experimental psychologist, formally organized APA psychologists into committees to apply scientific principles of psychology in aiding the US government in the war effort. Their pioneering work expanded upon the psychology known at the time, adapted it, and applied it to military support roles. Such work became identifiable as military psychology.

1.1 Selection and Placement

The influx of millions of conscripted men into the US Army required an economical and efficient method of classifying new soldiers and identifying potential officer candidates. Psychologists in the US Army Surgeon General’s Division of Psychology developed the Army Alpha and Beta tests, as expansions of the research of the French psychometrician Alfred Binet. These first large-scale group-administered tests of intellectual ability rapidly screened and identified the intellectual level of 1.7 million conscript recruits, and classified those young men for placement into jobs, for training, and for preparation as combatants for war. The Division’s tests selected 42,000 of the recruits for admission to officer training. World War (WW) I psychological tests and measurement work constituted the first formalized psychological research in military settings.

The Division of Psychology developed a system to grade individuals and grouped them according to abilities to learn; they provided lectures on training methods, and advised training officers. They measured troop morale and assimilation into the military; developed special trade tests to assess skills or combat leadership abilities, and contributed to development of methods and procedures to improve combat effectiveness and morale. In adopting mental measurement, and using psychometric screening tests for personnel selection and classification programs, the US Armed Forces made them a principal instrument of manpower management, and thereby gave credence to applied psychology within the academically based APA (Johnson 1991).

1.2 Clinical Psychology

Early in WW I, psychologists played an educational role in military medical settings by training hospital staff and surveying patients. In 1918, the US Army Surgeon General authorized the first duty assignments of psychologists to assist in evaluation of neuropsychiatric patients at the Walter Reed Army General Hospital in Washington, DC. This boosted the clinical practice role of psychologists within the military.

1.3 Military Psychologists in World War II

As the world’s military forces demobilized after WW I, most psychologists returned to academia to advance the science of psychology. As a consequence, there was a paucity of military psychology efforts until the onset of WW II. During the 1930s and early 1940s, military forces resumed interest in psychological applications for selection, classification, and assignment of military personnel. In several European countries, military establishments created and maintained behavioral science activities and research groups. In the USA, over 2,000 civilian and uniformed psychologists addressed WW II military problems, firmly establishing the role of psychology in the military. Their welldocumented work pervaded published articles in APA journals in the midto late 1940s.

To replace the Army Alpha test, US Army psychologists developed the new Army General Classification Test (AGCT) in the early 1940s. It was administered to

12 million men during WW II. Instead of striving to eliminate bad risks, the newer psychometric screening tools sought to identify individuals who could effectively acquire certain military skills or perform specific tasks. These tests evolved to become the widely used Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). In Western countries, WW II psychologists used psychomotor tests of coordination and physical ability for the selection of pilot candidates, and employed specialized tests for navigators and other military specialties. Psychological assessment centers were formed to develop performance-oriented tests and to select and train military operators for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

1.4 Leadership

During WW II, leadership was established as a topic of military research. The build-up of military forces required identifying leaders at all levels of new command structures. Psychologists initially developed selection tests to identify individuals possessing innate characteristics and abilities desirable in leaders. However, some psychologists downplayed the innate approach, and instead insisted leadership could be trained and developed as an acquired skill. Military studies of the leadership performance of officers, and instructional innovations, gave credence to both viewpoints. These continuously have been in the forefront of military psychology since.

1.5 Human Factors and Engineering Psychology

Radar, sonar, command and control centers, highperformance aircraft, submarines, large naval surface vessels, and other new military hardware challenged the cognitive capabilities of military personnel to operate complex equipment systems effectively. In the early 1940s through the late 1950s, hundreds of experimental psychologists teamed with military system design engineers in conducting laboratory and simulation research to assess demands for increased human performance. Numerous experimental psychology studies were done assessing sensory and perceptual demands, aviator visual capabilities, visual search techniques, psychomotor skills required of equipment operators, cognitive skills of sonar and radar operators, design and location of controls and displays in aircraft and other vehicles, other manmachine interfaces, and work–rest schedules for command and control personnel. Important military research topics included studies of effects of extreme heat, cold, high altitude, and other environmental factors on military performance.

Military engineering psychologists aided weaponsystem designers to apply an understanding of human capabilities and limitations in the design of equipment, materials, and jobs so as to optimize the integration of human operators into a ‘total system’ design within a military operational concept. Together with engineers, psychologists used the ‘systems approach’ to analyze complex human–machine environments in system terms. They used techniques such as functional, task, and time-line analyses of proposed operational procedures, information flow and decision making, and simulation in experimental trial testing (Parsons 1972). In Europe, engineering psychology was embedded in the field of ergonomics with a particular emphasis on biomechanics and physiology (Zinchenko and Munipov 1989), whereas in the USA it was variously called engineering psychology, human factors psychology, or human engineering, with more focus on cognitive processing. System engineering practices integrated principles of engineering psychology, and became trends in military equipment design centers in industrialized countries.

1.6 Social Psychology

Military social psychologists conducted hundreds of attitude surveys and experiments concerning soldier and sailor morale and motivation to support formulation of US military personnel policies for WW II. Social psychologists developed small group performance assessment techniques, expanded psychological warfare techniques, added new psychological perspectives to enemy intelligence analyses, initiated studies of prisoners of war, and developed small group performance assessment techniques.

Social psychological studies in several allied countries provided useful information to WW II military policy makers and established use of the social survey as a military personnel management tool. Their applied research solidified generalizable social psychological findings. Most impact-making findings, described at length in The American Soldier (Stouffer et al. 1949), concerned the importance of (a) cultural and personality influences in understanding and predicting behavior, (b) the role of attitudes in predicting and controlling behavior, and (c) the primary group in determining the morale and motivation of soldiers (Johnson 1991).

2. Uniqueness of Military Psychology

The unique breadth, scope, and diversity of subject matter pertinent to specialized work in military psychology sets it apart from other domains of psychology. Examples of military psychology topics not readily found in other realms of psychology are presented below.

2.1 Stress in Extreme Environments

Since the mid-1950s, military psychologists have studied extensively psychological and performance effects of highly stressful military environments. Diverse stressors not commonly found in civilian life include conditions of fear, sensory overload, sensory deprivation, social isolation, sleep deprivation, sustained operations, high mountain altitudes, climatic temperature extremes of deserts and tropics, severe winters, and living under the sea, in outer space, and on remote stark land masses. Military personnel are exposed to extreme heat in combat vehicles, high rates of vehicle acceleration, vibration, high acoustical noise, high levels of toxic gases and air pollutants in the work station, and even unusual dietary and nutritional mixes (Krueger 1991, 1998). Military research psychologists develop programs involving equipment, operational procedures, preventive medicine guidance, and training to alleviate stress or to increase an individual’s ability to cope with multiple stressors to preserve health and performance. On the clinical side, other military psychology programs help uniformed service members and their families adjust to the general stresses of military life.

2.2 Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (NBC) Warfare

Military forces face severe psychological stresses and performance-related problems anticipating sustaining military operations on a NBC battlefield. These range from coping with uncertainty and fear, to compromised communication capabilities, to general lack of confidence in equipment and procedures. Expected performance degradations attributable to wearing chemical protective uniforms are disconcerting to the untrained (Krueger and Banderet 1997). Military psychologists assist military forces, but also pass along lessons to national civil defense and first responder emergency personnel preparing responses to terrorist threats, or to national disasters.

2.3 Cross-cultural Operations

Cross-cultural interactions have been studied under both simulated and field conditions. Much of this work was directed toward small numbers of highly specialized Special Operations Forces who possess language skills and cultural training for geographical areas in which they are expected to work. Under United Nations and NATO auspices, military forces conduct peacekeeping and nation-building activities, preventing civil outbreaks while war-torn countries are restructured. These situations present unique psychological challenges to military personnel who are otherwise equipped and trained for combat. Military training must prepare thousands of combatants to perform peacekeeping activities, and to deal one-onone with paramilitary rebels, civil insurrectionists, and civilian populace refugees in a culture foreign to their own. What is learned about improving the ability of a military person to deal with his or her foreign counterpart has wide application beyond defense activities, and is relevant to other international efforts of government and nongovernmental agencies. Relatively new fields of political psychology and peace psychology benefit from this work.

2.4 Research Laboratory Continuity

Military research laboratories in the 50-year NATO alliance have endured as integral parts of one or another military service. Such continuity promotes longitudinal research and development programs based upon frequent sharing of research instrumentation, expertise, and research data, government technical reports and published articles, and frequent exchanges and customer dialogue with operational military agencies—the consumer–user of research and consulting. Collaboration crosses international boundaries. Military research laboratories supply military field commanders with analyzed data, suggested solutions, and recommendations for solving tricky human behavioral problems on the battlefield. Military research psychologists, benefiting from such laboratory continuity, help military services enact numerous improvements in operations and management. For example, prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War in Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, US forces had not fought in desert climatic extremes since WW II. Military psychologists spearheaded the rapid provision of preventive medicine guidance for preserving the health and performance of combatants in the desert for US military forces who were expected to rehearse tactical scenarios while wearing bulky chemical protective clothing as they acclimatized to extreme heat in Middle Eastern deserts. Thirty years of biomedical and psychological research data were culled and transmitted in useable handbook format to the fighting forces of several alliance nations (Glenn et al. 1991). The preventive medicine guidance was highly successful in preventing numerous casualties.

2.5 Tackling Large Military Concerns

Military forces contend with, and resolve, major social-psychological problems. Kenneth E. Clark pointed out that military services are concerned with big operations, and the behavioral and social science research that supports those services must tackle big problems—a kind of work he referred to as ‘macro psychology’ (Crawford 1970). Because of substantial government backing and financial sponsorship, military psychology often mounts a concerted attack on major social problems. Large research projects combine extensive logistical support and well-orchestrated efforts of teams of multidisciplinary scientists. On large practical problems, hundreds of military personnel may serve as research participants for field experiments, and tens of thousands may participate in survey work. Ample research instrumentation is arranged, millions of data points are collected and analyzed, and results are often presented to ultimate policy decision makers at the highest levels of the military or civilian government prompting such study. Changes decided upon as a result of psychological research can be implemented because of the relatively closed-loop military organizational structure, and impact results are subsequently fed back to the source where they can affect even more change in service-wide procedures or policies affecting millions of people.

3. Current and Future Issues in Military Psychology

For eight decades, military psychology has continued to contribute meaningfully to national defense in countries that maintain military forces. Military psychologists bring psychological principles to bear in tackling ‘real working world’ problems and issues that confront military service personnel. Military psychologists are pacesetters in numerous topical matters of critical importance to military organizations, but which also have far-reaching implications for the civilian populace. In that process, military psychologists have also made significant contributions to psychology as a whole.

3.1 Hot Topics in Military Psychology Research

Military psychologists tackle practical operational military personnel performance-related issues. Those relevant to the twenty-first century include the following: (a) how do armed forces cope with a large influx of military women into jobs traditionally held by men?; (b) how do volunteer military services obtain quality recruits and maintain retention to meet goals of a proficient, ready combat force in fluctuating global economic and employment markets?; (c) how will future soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines handle wearable personal computers, and how will they cope with possible inundation by computerized data streams on a digitized battlefield?; (d) what role will information warfare play, and once reliance on computerized battlefields has been solidified, how does one deal with data disruptions?; (e) will computerization demote or leave behind those soldiers who are not computer literate?; (f ) what role and treatment regimen should be considered for prescribed ingestion of chemical substances proposed as enhancements to human performance?; (g) how will changing paradigms of leadership affect future military operations and what will psychological research have to say about them?; and (h) how must military leadership change to accommodate intercultural alliances?

3.2 The Military as a Social Psychological Experimental Proving Ground

When social, politically correct trends grab the attention of democratically free societies, the governmentally controlled military system often takes on a role as society’s social-psychological experimental laboratory. The military is a closed-loop system, in which uniformed personnel literally belong to, and work for, their military bosses 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. In many countries, military personnel are provided with housing, food supply, pay, and medical care systems. Compared with performing social studies in society at large, conducting military ‘social experiments,’ collecting performance data, and obtaining feedback on how well ‘treatments’ work in the military is almost assured.

During their military careers, most US military service personnel have typically participated in one or more ‘social experiments.’ Examples of social studies targeted toward military personnel include the following: (a) integrating the work force through influx of members of all religions, racial and ethnic minorities, women, and, more recently, homosexuals; (b) instituting sexual harassment awareness and other sensitivity training in the workplace; (c) implementing tobacco-smoking cessation, control of recreational drugs and alcohol use, family advocacy programs, personal weight control, physical fitness, and uniform dress regulations; (d) adoption of the British Army’s regimental unit replacement personnel transfer policies whereby a whole military unit’s personnel, and dependent families, relocate together as a group from one military assignment to another; and (e) making it mandatory for military personnel to subject themselves to inoculations, experimental drugs and therapeutics, or, owing to insufficient supplies, withholding drug treatments for some personnel.

Military psychologists, therefore, have the opportunity to participate in the enactment of social and organizational change in the military, and their work can have far-reaching implications for society at large.


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