Military psychology is the research, design and application of
psychological theories and empirical data towards understanding,
predicting, and countering behaviours either in friendly or enemy
forces or the civilian population that may be undesirable, threatening
or potentially dangerous to the conduct of military operations.
Military psychology transforms from sub-branch groups of different
psychology disciplines into a tool used by the military, as will all
tools of the military, to enable the troops to better survive the
stresses of war while using psychological principles to unbalance the
enemy forces for easier wins. All stresses and psychological
illnesses that military psychology looks at are not specific only to
the military. However, soldiers tend to face a specific combination of
these otherwise generic stresses.
Military psychology then specializes
in looking at this unique combination of stresses that plagues the
military and war settings. These stresses include posttraumatic stress
disorder (PTSD), guilt, family difficulties with the veteran's spouse,
nightmares and flashbacks, and many more.
Military psychology is
applied towards counselling and treatment of stress and fatigue of
military personnel or military families as well as treatment of
2 Area of study
2.2 Operational psychology
2.3 Tactical psychology
2.4 Health, organizational, and occupational psychology
3.1 Early work
3.2 Intelligence testing in the U.S. military
3.3 Yerkes and war
3.4 World War II
3.5 Korean War
3.6 Vietnam War
3.7 Global War on Terror
4 See also
6 External links
The military is a group of individuals who are usually trained and
equipped to perform national security tasks in unique and often
chaotic and trauma-filled situations. These situations can include the
front-lines of battle, national emergencies, allied assistance, or the
disaster response scenarios where they are providing relief-aid for
the host populations of both friendly and enemy states. Though many
psychologists may have a general understanding with regards to a
humans response to traumatic situations, military psychologists are
uniquely trained and experienced specialists in applied science and
practice among this special population. While the soldiers may be
providing direct aid to the victims of events, military psychologists
are providing specialized aid to both soldiers, their families, and
the victims of military operations as they cope with the often
"normal" response or reaction to uncommon and abnormal circumstances.
In addition to the specialized roles previously mentioned, military
psychologists often study the dynamics, train people in, and consult
on hostage negotiations. In some cases the psychologists might not be
the one directly handling the hostage situation, but hostage
negotiators find value in resolving the hostage crisis using many of
the scientific principles that are derived from the science of
psychology. In addition, many of the principles of the scientific
discipline of clinical psychology have their roots in the work of the
early military psychologists of World War II.
Another common practice domain for military psychologists is in
performing fitness for duty evaluations, especially in high risk and
high reliability occupations. The set of unique challenges often faced
by those in the military and the professions of arms such as: police,
strategic security, and protective services personnel, the ability to
perform reliable and accurate fitness for duty evaluations adds value
and maximizes the human capital investment in the workplace by
optimizing retention of the talents of active and prospective service
men and women while minimizing risk in many areas including violence,
mishap, and injury potential. The types of fitness evaluations include
both basic entry examinations and career progression examinations such
as those conducted when individuals are seeking promotion,
higher-classification clearance status, and specialized, hazardous,
and mission critical working conditions. When operational commanders
become concerned about the impact of continuous, critical, and
traumatic operations on those in their command, they often consult
with a military psychologist.
Military psychologists can assess,
diagnose, treat and recommend the duty status most suitable for the
optimal well-being of the individual, group, and organization. Events
that affect the mental state, resilience or psychological assets and
vulnerabilities of the warrior and the command are where military
psychologists are most equipped to meet the unique challenges and
provide expert care and consultation to preserve the behavioural
health of the fighting force. The fitness evaluations might lead to
command directed administrative actions or provide the information
necessary to make decisions by a medical board or other tribunal and
must be thoroughly conducted by non-biased individuals with the
experience and training necessary to render a professional opinion
that is critical to key decision makers.
Military psychologists must
be well versed in the art and science of psychology as specialized
applied practice professionals. They must also be highly competent
generalists in the military profession, and be able to understand both
professions well enough to examine human behavior in the context of
military operations. It takes the psychologist several years beyond
the doctorate to develop the expertise necessary to understand how to
integrate psychology with the complex needs of the military.
Another very select and infrequent use of military psychology is in
the interview of subjects, the interrogation of prisoners, and the
vetting of those who may provide information of operational or
intelligence value that would enhance outcomes of friendly military
operations or reduce friendly and enemy casualties. Psychology's
scientific principles applied here allow the interviewer, agent, or
interrogator to get as much information as possible through
non-invasive means without the need to resort to active measures or
risk violating the rules of engagement, host nation agreements,
international and military law or crossing the threshold of the Geneva
Conventions' guidelines to which the United States and its allies
subscribe, regardless of the status of many of the modern belligerent
countries on the international laws and United Nations agreements.
Area of study
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The goals and missions of current military psychologists have been
retained over the years, varying with the focus and strength of
intensity of research put forth into each sector. The need for mental
health care is now an expected part of high-stress military
environments. The importance and severity of post traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD) has gained more credibility than those suffering from
it received in the past, and is being highlighted in treatment
programs. More extensive post-deployment screenings take place now to
home in on problematic recoveries that used to be passed unnoticed and
Terrorism and counterterrorism, information management, and
psychological warfare are value-added roles for the applied aspects of
military psychology that are developing. For instance, contrary to the
common myths and stereotypes about modern terrorists, that tend
portray them as mentally disturbed individuals; most terrorists are
far from that typology according to studies conducted by behavioural
and social scientists who have either directly interviewed and
observed terrorists or conducted meta-analytic studies of terrorism
Terrorists have tended to be from among the more well educated in
their host countries. They often have developed a well thought out,
but not very often publicized or well articulated, rigid ideology that
provides the foundation for their strategy and tactics.
Psychologically disturbed terrorists increase the risk of damage to
the terror organization's strategic outcomes. As in any organization,
mentally disturbed terrorists are a liability and the leaders of
terrorist groups are well aware of the risks that these types of
persons present. As any good organizational leader, the effective
terrorist will try to recruit the best person for the job. It is
doubtful that modern terrorist groups would adopt the affirmative
action and other hiring practices dictated under employment laws in
the United States or other Western countries.
It is important to understand when and how the label of terrorism is
applied because of its psychological impact as suggested above. The
causes, goals, methodology, and strategy of the terrorist mindset is
well suited for psychological inquiry and the development of the
strategy and tactics used to confront it.
Terrorism is an ideology
that uses behavioral, emotional, and group dynamics, along with social
and psychological principles to influence populations for political
purposes. It is a form of psychological warfare. The terrorists are
experts in the use of fear, violence, threats of violence and trauma
in order to advance the political agenda. Terrorists seek
psychological control and use violent behavior to cause the population
to behave in ways that disrupt and destroy the existing political
processes and symbols of political power. They control people by using
deep primal emotions to elicit a reaction and shape behavior.
The goal of a terrorist is to use violence to create the natural fear
of death and dismemberment and use it to change or shape political
behavior, control thought and modify speech.
Military and operational
psychologists are highly trained and experienced. They are experts
equipped with the specialized knowledge, skills, and abilities in the
art and science of the military and psychology professions that give
them a great deal of potential in this unique operational
Operational psychology is a specialty within the field of psychology
that applies behavioral science principles through the use of
consultation to enable key decision makers to more effectively
understand, develop, target, and influence an individual, group or
organization to accomplish tactical, operational, or strategic
objectives within the domain of national security or national defense.
This is a relatively new sub-discipline that has been employed largely
by psychologists and behavioral scientists in military, intelligence,
and law enforcement arenas (although other areas of public safety
employ psychologists in this capacity as well). While psychology has
been utilized in non-health related fields for many decades, recent
years have seen an increased focus on its national security
applications. Examples of such applications include the development of
counterinsurgency strategy through human profiling, interrogation and
detention support, information-psychological operations, and the
selection of personnel for specialized military or other public safety
Recently, operational psychology has been under increased scrutiny due
to allegations of unethical conduct by some practitioners supporting
military and law enforcement interrogations. As a result, a small
group of psychologists have raised concerns about the ethics of such
practice. Supporters of operational psychology have responded by
providing an ethical defense of such activity. They argue that the
American Psychological Association's ethical code is sufficient to
support operational psychologists in a number of activities (to
include legal interrogation by the military and other law enforcement
Tactical psychology is "a sharp focus on what soldiers do once they
are in contact with the enemy...on what a front-line soldier can do to
win a battle". It combines psychology and historical analysis (the
application of statistics to military historical data) to find out how
tactics make the enemy freeze, flee or fuss, instead of fight.
Tactical psychology examines how techniques like suppressive fire,
combined arms or flanking reduce the enemy's will to fight.
Health, organizational, and occupational psychology
Military psychologists perform work in a variety of areas, to include
operating mental health and family counseling clinics, performing
research to help select recruits for the armed forces, determining
which recruits will be best suited for various military occupational
specialties, and performing analysis on humanitarian and peacekeeping
missions to determine procedures that could save military and civilian
lives. Some military psychologists also work to improve the lives of
service personnel and their families. Other military psychologists
work with large social policy programs within the military that are
designed to increase diversity and equal opportunity.
More modern programs employ the skills and knowledge of military
psychologists to address issues such as integrating diverse ethnic and
racial groups into the military and reducing sexual assault and
discrimination. Others assist in the employment of women in combat
positions and other positions traditionally held by men. Some military
psychologists help to utilize low-capability recruits and rehabilitate
drug-addicted and wounded service members. They are in charge of drug
testing and psychological treatment for lifestyle problems, such as
alcohol and substance abuse. In modern times, the advisement of
military psychologists are being heard and taken more seriously into
consideration for national policy than ever before. There are now more
psychologists employed by the
U.S. Department of Defense
U.S. Department of Defense than by any
other organization in the world. Since the downsizing of the military
in the 1990s, however, there has been a considerable reduction in
psychological research and support in the armed forces as well.
Women in military roles is an area of study receiving an increasing
amount of attention. Currently women make up 10%-15% of the armed
forces. As women tended to move to away from nursing and helping
roles, increasing attention is given to how the brutal realities of
combat would affect the women psychologically. Interesting research
shows that, when affected, women tend to ask for help, more so than
men, thus avoiding many of the long-term mental suffering that male
soldiers face after their deployment has ended.
Psychological stress and disorders have always been a part of military
life, especially during and after wartime, but the mental health
section of military psychology has not always experienced the
awareness it does now. Even in the present day there is much more
research and awareness needed concerning this area.
One of the first institutions created to care for military psychiatric
St. Elizabeths Hospital
St. Elizabeths Hospital in
Washington, D.C. Formerly
known as the United States Government Hospital for the Insane, the
hospital was founded by the
United States Congress
United States Congress in 1855 and is
currently in a state of disrepair although operational, with
revitalization plans scheduled to begin in 2010.
James McKeen Cattell
James McKeen Cattell coined the term “mental tests”.
Cattell studied under Wundt at
Leipzig in Germany at one point during
his life and strongly advocated for psychology to be viewed as a
science on par with the physical and life sciences. He promoted
the need for standardization of procedures, use of norms, and
advocated the use of statistical analysis to study individual
differences. He was unwavering in his opposition to America’s
involvement in World War I.
Lightner Witmer, who also spent some time working under Wundt, changed
the scene for psychology forever from his position at the University
of Pennsylvania when he coined the term “clinical psychology” and
outlined a program of training and study. This model for clinical
psychology is still followed in modern times. Eleven years later in
1907 Witmer founded the journal The Psychological Clinic.
Also in 1907, a routine psychological screening plan for hospitalized
psychiatric patients was developed by Shepard Ivory Franz, civilian
research psychologist at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. Two years
later, under the leadership of William Alanson White,
St. Elizabeth’s Hospital became known for research and training
of psychiatrists and military medical officers. In 1911 Hebert Butts,
a navy medical officer stationed at St. Elizabeth's, published
the first protocol for psychological screening of navy recruits based
on Franz's work.
Intelligence testing in the U.S. military
Lewis M. Terman, a professor at Stanford University, revised the
Binet-Simon Scale in 1916, renaming it the Stanford-Binet
Revision. This test was the beginning of the “Intelligence
Testing Movement” and was administered to over 170,000 soldiers in
United States Army
United States Army during World War I. Yerkes published the
results of these tests in 1921 in a document that became known as the
There were two tests that initially made up the intelligence tests for
Army Alpha and
Army Beta tests. They were developed to
evaluate vast numbers of military recruits that were both literate
Army Alpha tests) and illiterate (
Army Beta tests). The Army Beta
test were designed to “measure native intellectual capacity”. The
Army Beta test also helped to test non-English speaking service
The standardized intelligence and entrance tests that have been used
for each military branch in the United States has transformed over the
years. Finally, in 1974, “the Department of Defense decided that all
Services should use
Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery
Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB)
for both screening enlistees and assigning them to military
occupations. Combining selection and classification testing made the
testing process more efficient. It also enabled the Services to
improve the matching of applicants with available job positions and
allowed job guarantees for those qualified”. This went fully into
effect in 1976.
Yerkes and war
Robert M. Yerkes, while he was president of the American Psychological
Association (APA) in 1917, worked with
Edward B. Titchener
Edward B. Titchener and a group
of psychologists that were known as the “Experimentalists”. Their
work resulted in formulating a plan for APA members to offer their
professional services to the World War I effort, even though
Yerkes was known for being opposed to America being involved in the
war at all. It was decided that psychologists could provide support in
developing methods for selection of recruits and treatment of war
victims. This was spurred, in part, by America’s growing
interest in the work of
Alfred Binet in
France on mental measurement,
as well as the scientific management movement to enhance worker
In 1919, Yerkes was commissioned as a major in the U.S. Army Medical
Service Corps. In a plan proposed to the Surgeon General, Yerkes
wrote: "The Council of the
American Psychological Association
American Psychological Association is
convinced that in the present emergency American psychology can
substantially serve the Government, under the medical corps of the
Army and Navy, by examining recruits with respect to intellectual
deficiency, psychopathic tendencies, nervous instability, and
inadequate self-control". Also in 1919, the Army Division of
Psychology in the Medical Department was established at the medical
training camp at
Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia
Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia to train personnel to
provide mental testing of large groups.
This was also the era when the condition referred to as “shell
shock” was first seriously studied by psychologists and standardized
screening tests for pilots were administered.
World War II
World War II
World War II ushered in an era of substantial growth for the
psychological field, centering around four major areas: testing for
individual abilities, applied social psychology, instruction and
training, and clinical psychology. During World War II, the
Army General Classification Test (AGCT) and the Navy General
Classification Test (NGCT) were used in place of the
Army Alpha and
Army Beta tests for similar purposes.
United States Army
United States Army had no unified program for the use of clinical
psychologists until 1944, towards the end of World War II. Before
this time, no clinical psychologists were serving in Army hospitals
under the supervision of psychiatrists. This had to do with
psychologists’ opposition to this type of service and also to the
limited role the Army assigned to psychiatry. At this time, the only
psychiatric interview that was being processed on the ever-increasing
numbers of military recruits lasted only three minutes and could only
manage to weed out the severely disturbed recruits. Under these
conditions, it was impossible to determine which seemingly normal
recruits would crack under the strain of military duties, and the need
for clinical psychologists grew. By 1945 there were over 450 clinical
psychologists serving in the U.S. Army.
Military psychology matured well past the areas aforementioned that
concerned psychologists up until this time, branching off into sectors
that included military leadership, the effects of environmental
factors on human performance, military intelligence, psychological
operations and warfare (such as
Special Forces like PSYOP), selection
for special duties, and the influences of personal background,
attitudes, and the work group on soldier motivation and morals.
Korean War was the first war in which clinical psychologists served
overseas, positioned in hospitals as well as combat zones. Their
particular roles were vague, broad, and fairly undefined, except for
the U.S. Air Force, which provided detailed job descriptions. The Air
Force also outlined the standardized tests and procedures for
evaluating recruits that were to be used.
In the Vietnam War, there were significant challenges that obstructed
the regular use of psychologists to support combat troops. The mental
health teams were very small, usually only consisting of one
psychiatrist, one psychologist, and three or four enlisted corpsmen.
Quite often, medical officers, including psychologists, were working
in severe conditions with little or no field experience. Despite
these challenges, military psychiatry had improved compared to
previous wars, which focused on maximizing function and minimizing
disability by preventive and therapeutic measures.
Global War on Terror
A 2014 study of soldiers who had mental health problems after Overseas
Contingency Operation service found that a majority of them had
symptoms before they enlisted.
Center for Deployment Psychology
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The Center for Deployment
Psychology at the Uniformed Services
University of the Health Sciences