Careers Psychology's Role in the Military

Published on August 1st, 2018 | by Jelena D


Psychology’s Role in the Military

One of the earliest cases of the use of psychology in military is found in the Bible in which the word shibboleth was used to test whether fugitives from the battle were Ephraimites or Gileadites. If they were the former, they would not pronounce the “sh” sound and said “sibboleth”, so they could be dealt with as spies. Thus the military differentiated between people on the basis of their behavior.

Even psychological warfare and propaganda have roots that lie deep in history. In 1245 B.C., Gideon used lamps and pitchers in the great battle against Midianites to cause confusion. With only 300 men he surrounded a much larger group. Breaking pitchers, exposing lights and sounding great trumpet blasts, Gideon’s forces startled their enemies so that they panicked and fought one another.

The early Greeks put out propaganda leaflets saying: “Men of Ionia, you do wrong in fighting against your fathers and helping to enslave Greece.” Thus psychology in the military brings together applications from virtually all fields, from sensory tips on how to see in the dark to the more sophisticated logics of winning the peace.

In the United States, application of military psychology began during World War I with the development of two types of intelligence tests, the Army Alpha for those who could read and write and the Army Beta for illiterates. The tests were widely used and hey contributed to the effective selection, classification and assignment of army recruits. Military psychology expanded in World War II with work on a variety of practical problems. From the field of experimental psychology came answers to questions about the efficient use of the human senses and skills in combat. Selection and training received expert attention from industrial and educational institutions.

By 1968, political psychology appeared as a new branch of military psychology. Studies described political psychology as the knowledge, which lies between individual psychology and political science, just like social psychology is somewhere between psychology and sociology. Political psychologists are concerned with, how one defines political stability, how one identifies the factors which influence it. Although considered a branch of military psychology, it can operate in peacetime, just as army engineers function in control of flood waters and the air force drops food to marooned people. Political psychology seeks to know what motivates people to participate in politics. What is the allegiance? How does one identify commitment to an ideal? What roles do vested interest and vested influence play? Military too needs the similar motivation.

What are the differences in human behavior when control is brought about by different influences? By forceful means, propaganda, indoctrination, or educational means? “Control,” by orderly and peaceful means is accepted rather than by authoritarian force.

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