Sunday, December 29, 2013

Michael D. Matthews's "Head Strong"

Michael D. Matthews is Professor of Engineering Psychology at the United States Military Academy. He served as President of the American Psychological Association's Division of Military Psychology from 2007 to 2008 and is a Templeton Foundation Senior Positive Psychology Fellow. Collectively, his research interests center on Soldier performance in combat and other dangerous contexts.

Matthews applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Head Strong: How Psychology is Revolutionizing War, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Head Strong begins a discussion of social network analysis (SNA) and how it can be used by the military to assess the cohesion of military units, identify soldiers who are at risk of developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or to identify potential terrorists. In brief, SNA analyzes the pattern, direction, and frequency of interpersonal contacts within a given group. For example, one of my army colleagues collected SNA data on several infantry platoons serving in combat. Compared to platoons with well developed social networks, soldiers assigned to platoons with fragmented social networks showed, when tested, much higher scores on a test of PTSD. The widely publicized case of the National Security Agency’s tracking of cell phone and email traffic represents another, and highly controversial, use of SNA. Modern computers have the power to detect patterns in the chaos of the billions of digital communications that occur each day, and to link them to potential terrorist threats. The overriding issue becomes, of course, how the right to privacy is weighed against the goal of protecting our citizens against potential terrorist activity.

In Head Strong, I discuss how psychology and related disciplines are more important than ever to selecting, training, and maintaining an effective military. Topics range from breakthrough developments in personnel selection, to preventing PTSD and promoting resilience, to the qualities and characteristics that 21st Century generals must possess to be effective in the types of conflicts we will face in coming years. I include a chapter on how psychological science can assist in the development of “super soldiers,” as well as a chapter on how developments in military psychology may improve the quality of life for all people.

War has always spurred scientific advances. For psychology, World War I gave birth to modern psychological testing methods, World War II led to the development of engineering psychology, and the Vietnam War resulted in enhanced understanding of PTSD and other stress-related pathologies. In Head Strong, I look at what changes in psychological science and practice will be driven by future wars. The lessons learned by military psychologists will have a profound effect our understanding of human behavior.

The views expressed in this blog entry are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.
Learn more about Head Strong at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue