Advanced

Psychological factors influencing restrained behaviors during armed conflicts – A review of findings and challenges

Lindén, Magnus LU (2017) Restraint in war - Essential for a good peace?
Abstract
Severe unrestrained behaviors during armed conflicts, such as the massacre in My Lai or abusive transgressions such as the torture-like behaviors occurring in Abu-Ghraib prison, often lead to increased difficulties to decrease hostilities or to gain a peaceful ending to a military conflict. Therefore, it is of highest relevance to understand which individual, situational and organizational factors that influences soldiers’ motivation and ability to act restrainedly during war. The science of psychology provides us with some answers, and some challenges, to that question.

With regards to individual factors, studies investigating personality shows that individuals with low neuroticism, high agreeableness and high openness... (More)
Severe unrestrained behaviors during armed conflicts, such as the massacre in My Lai or abusive transgressions such as the torture-like behaviors occurring in Abu-Ghraib prison, often lead to increased difficulties to decrease hostilities or to gain a peaceful ending to a military conflict. Therefore, it is of highest relevance to understand which individual, situational and organizational factors that influences soldiers’ motivation and ability to act restrainedly during war. The science of psychology provides us with some answers, and some challenges, to that question.

With regards to individual factors, studies investigating personality shows that individuals with low neuroticism, high agreeableness and high openness are more motivated to behave altruistically. Likewise, lower levels of “dark” traits such as social dominance orientation and right-wing authoritarianism are related to higher levels of empathy and less abusive attitudes such as legitimizing torture in war. Findings also shows that low levels of the so-called dark triad (Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy) are related to both higher scores on questionnaires measuring battlefield ethics and lower scores on unethical utilitarian decision making in response to war-like dilemmas (such as the problem of sacrificing or not sacrificing a wounded comrade to save the group). Given such findings, one solution for increasing the level of restrained behavior in the military would be to recruit the “right” persons, i.e. soldiers with higher levels on virtues such as compassion and forgiveness (as has been discussed in connection to interrogators). Yet, some of the challenges related to the individual perspective is that armed forces sometimes seems to prefer soldiers with dark traits since they are more ready to be aggressive and do “bloody deeds” and that it is scientifically difficult to detect dark traits during assessment due to social desirability.

Regarding factors in the situation, social psychological research has mainly investigated the role of risk factors such as dehumanization, deindividuation, obedience to authority and aggressive group-norms in unrestrained behaviors. Recently, interest has shifted towards the virtue of heroism, i.e. “good” behaviors in which a soldier refuse either to participate in or resist unrestrained and abusive behaviors done by other soldiers (one example being the helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson who intervened during the massacre in My Lai). Some of the challenges related to the situational perspective is that the military structure and its task sometimes contribute to an increased risk of unrestrained behaviors and that heroic soldiers trying to prevent unrestrained behavior in others often are viewed as a traitor by their fellow soldiers and large parts of the society.

With regards to the organizational perspective, empirical data suggest that organizational culture plays an important role when it comes to promoting restrained behaviors in soldiers. Further, studies on military leadership shows that ethical leaders seems to influence ethical culture lower in the units. Regarding leadership, data also shows that a higher transformational leadership in cadets is related to higher ethical justice behaviors. Finally, virtuous leadership behaviors such as courage and high morals are also important in preventing military atrocities. Hence, it is relevant that the military organization develops an ethical culture and that the officers are trained to be moral role models. The latter being the core in training soldiers to behave ethically (one seemingly successful example being battlefield ethics training). Yet, some of the problems related to the organizational perspective is that the military organization is influenced by unethical governmental policies, that it is difficult for military leaders to teach restrained behaviors in an unrestrained military culture, that the environment influences behaviors during service in a combat zone and that military leaders seems to develop dark personality traits during training.

(Less)
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
organization
publishing date
type
Contribution to conference
publication status
published
subject
conference name
Restraint in war - Essential for a good peace?
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
85137e1a-8803-4176-98d2-a104525e5b55
date added to LUP
2017-06-08 09:47:25
date last changed
2017-06-12 10:26:25
@misc{85137e1a-8803-4176-98d2-a104525e5b55,
  abstract     = {  Severe unrestrained behaviors during armed conflicts, such as the massacre in My Lai or abusive transgressions such as the torture-like behaviors occurring in Abu-Ghraib prison, often lead to increased difficulties to decrease hostilities or to gain a peaceful ending to a military conflict. Therefore, it is of highest relevance to understand which individual, situational and organizational factors that influences soldiers’ motivation and ability to act restrainedly during war. The science of psychology provides us with some answers, and some challenges, to that question.    <br/><br/>   With regards to individual factors, studies investigating personality shows that individuals with low neuroticism, high agreeableness and high openness are more motivated to behave altruistically. Likewise, lower levels of “dark” traits such as social dominance orientation and right-wing authoritarianism are related to higher levels of empathy and less abusive attitudes such as legitimizing torture in war. Findings also shows that low levels of the so-called dark triad (Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy) are related to both higher scores on questionnaires measuring battlefield ethics and lower scores on unethical utilitarian decision making in response to war-like dilemmas (such as the problem of sacrificing or not sacrificing a wounded comrade to save the group). Given such findings, one solution for increasing the level of restrained behavior in the military would be to recruit the “right” persons, i.e.  soldiers with higher levels on virtues such as compassion and forgiveness (as has been discussed in connection to interrogators). Yet, some of the challenges related to the individual perspective is that armed forces sometimes seems to prefer soldiers with dark traits since they are more ready to be aggressive and do “bloody deeds” and that it is scientifically difficult to detect dark traits during assessment due to social desirability. <br/><br/>   Regarding factors in the situation, social psychological research has mainly investigated the role of risk factors such as dehumanization, deindividuation, obedience to authority and aggressive group-norms in unrestrained behaviors. Recently, interest has shifted towards the virtue of heroism, i.e. “good” behaviors in which a soldier refuse either to participate in or resist unrestrained and abusive behaviors done by other soldiers (one example being the helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson who intervened during the massacre in My Lai). Some of the challenges related to the situational perspective is that the military structure and its task sometimes contribute to an increased risk of unrestrained behaviors and that heroic soldiers trying to prevent unrestrained behavior in others often are viewed as a traitor by their fellow soldiers and large parts of the society.  <br/><br/>   With regards to the organizational perspective, empirical data suggest that organizational culture plays an important role when it comes to promoting restrained behaviors in soldiers. Further, studies on military leadership shows that ethical leaders seems to influence ethical culture lower in the units. Regarding leadership, data also shows that a higher transformational leadership in cadets is related to higher ethical justice behaviors.  Finally, virtuous leadership behaviors such as courage and high morals are also important in preventing military atrocities. Hence, it is relevant that the military organization develops an ethical culture and that the officers are trained to be moral role models. The latter being the core in training soldiers to behave ethically (one seemingly successful example being battlefield ethics training). Yet, some of the problems related to the organizational perspective is that the military organization is influenced by unethical governmental policies, that it is difficult for military leaders to teach restrained behaviors in an unrestrained military culture, that the environment influences behaviors during service in a combat zone and that military leaders seems to develop dark personality traits during training.   <br/><br/>},
  author       = {Lindén, Magnus},
  language     = {eng},
  title        = {Psychological factors influencing restrained behaviors during armed conflicts – A review of findings and challenges},
  year         = {2017},
}