Military Psychology: Study & Relevance For Military Leaders

"From obsolete equipment to WW II recruitment techniques. What can India do to have a Military ready to fight future wars of the 21’st Century? We need to urgently focus on the following in Military Psychology to prepare our Military to win!"

Military Psychology: Study & Relevance For Military Leaders


Psychology is the study of Mind and Behaviour. Psychology has many subfields, the important ones from a Military point of view are: -

  • Clinical psychology is an integration of science, theory, and practice.
  • Cognitive psychology investigates internal mental processes such as how people think, perceive, and communicate.
  • Developmental psychology is the study of how a person develops psychologically over the course of his life.
  • Military Psychology is the research, design and application of empirical data and scientific theories on Military Personnel for countering battle/training related stress and help in the selection system. If this be the aim of studying and applying it in the Military, we in India are woefully inadequate and ill equipped due to lack of understanding of this important subject.

Aldous Huxley in his book the ‘Brave New World’ writes about a Hatching and Conditioning Centre, where through Bokanovsky and Podsnap Processes the Hatchery produces thousands of nearly identical human embryos who are graded from Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta to Epsilon.

Alpha embryos are destined to become the leaders and thinkers of the World State. Each of the succeeding class is conditioned to be slightly less physically and intellectually impressive. The Epsilons, stunted and stupefied by oxygen deprivation and chemical treatments, are destined to perform menial labor.

The beauty of the process is sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning wherein a particular batch of embryos on full maturation will have identical looking people, who even have similar thinking/thought process and react similarly in a given situation. Is this what we all want from our Military, especially the thinking part? The danger inherent in this is for all to visualize and comprehend.

Are our training Institutions falling into the trap of “tried and tested formulas” and training methods? We need to collectively wake up from this deep slumber and understand the reality of 21’st Century.

The issues confronting our Military are multifarious, from obsolete equipment to WW II recruitment techniques. What can India do to have a Military ready to fight future wars of the 21’st Century? We need to urgently focus on the following in Military Psychology to prepare our Military to win the next war:-

  • Selection/Classification and Placement of Personnel.
  • Human Factors and Military Performance.
  • Environmental Factors and Military Performance.
  • Leadership in the Military.
  • Individual and Group Behaviour.

Selection/Classification & Placement of Personnel – Our system of recruitment is antiquated, for the men, it is a combination of a run, some physical tests, rudimentary written test and medical. There is no effort to put the lot through a Psychometric Test/Psychological Analysis, no wonder we have increasing cases of soldiers running amok, suicides/fratricides, PTSD cases etc.

As the joint family system breaks down further and soldiers get recruited from suburbs/semi urban areas we will have to be prepared to deal with a new set of problems.

For Officers the dynamics is different as they have to be responsible for “what happens & what does not happen under their command”. Are we training Independent minds? So that when the chips are down our junior/senior leadership does not look over their shoulders for orders to tackle a life/death situation facing them on ground?

Officers work under the overall aim of their higher Commanders and fight to protect National Honour/Integrity and the Constitution. Are we spoon- feeding and over supervising our Officer cadre and bludgeoning them to servility?

Human Factors & Military Performance -   There are a host of human factors which effect performance of Military personnel. From the basics of food, shelter and clothing there are higher order needs that drive and motivate Individuals. Need for recognition, achievement, power are also factors which drive Individuals to perform Herculean tasks.

Combating solitude, loneliness for longer periods at isolated posts/piquet’s creates feelings of neglect/deprivation because humans are social animals and have a strong sense to associate/affiliate. A thorough study of all human factors affecting the Military and its implementation in man management can yield out of proportion dividends to Commanders.

Environmental Factors & Military Performance - It would be naive to presume that environment has little role to play in a hardy soldier’s survival. What the Military needs is peak efficiency and vigor in execution of Military tasks in all terrains. Each terrain/ area imposes restrictions which are typical/peculiar to that area/environment.

Understanding oxygen depletion and its effect over decision making in High Altitude Areas, Effect of extreme heat (deserts) on human muscle, extreme rainy conditions where clothes never dry, humidity, cold, snow are all environmental factors. Environment would also encompass unit culture, initiation/induction rites (hand holding), regimental traditions and so on.

Indian soldier maintaining vigil at high altitudes

Leadership in the Military -   One of the most important factor which effects day to day functioning of the Military is the Leader. From the junior most to the senior, each one is important & contributes in smooth functioning of a complex and gargantuan organization like the Indian Military, with 1.3 Million troops answering call to arms and loyalty to the National Flag.

Future wars will require a modern Military, drawing inspiration from its roots but modern and forward looking with the best equipment and training headed by imaginative, bold, fearless Leaders who do not wait for fleeting opportunities/possibilities in the battlefield but create them & set up the opponent so that the tide of battle is always in their favour.

Older theories of Leadership have to be jettisoned for progressive models like Transformational and Change Leadership. Individuals who understand the man – machine mix and with high EQ will be able to rise in the Leadership stakes.

The subordinates will become more demanding of their Leaders/Commanders, as the media will get hungrier and will highlight cases of corruption and impropriety more frequently. A monolith like the Military can ill afford its Leadership being dragged into unnecessary controversies as it would affect troop morale.

Individual & Group Behavior - The French Foreign Legion (FFL) has been successfully practicing  a unique Psychological concept termed FIRO. It stands for Fundamental Interpersonal Relationship Orientation. In simple terms it is the study about what period of time is required by Individuals to jell/fit into a team. How does the Team dynamic affect the Individual and vice versa?

French Foreign Legion in Afghanistan

Individuals in the Military come from diverse backgrounds, what qualities need to be preserved and what needs to be weeded out? What values do we need to impart to Individuals so that on pain of death these are never compromised? How can we enhance morale? Concept of Nation first and penalties when absolute values are compromised by anyone. Transcendence from I – Me - Myself to Us- We- Ourselves.

As is evident, study of Military Psychology is the need of the hour. Implementing various tested theories will not only help us transform but create a modern environment with a scientific base to tackle myriad issues which have been neglected till date.

The Psychological Tests in use are Redundant

Firstly, there is an urgent need to have the Psychological Tests being held in SSB to be held on a computer/laptop (online) so that results are available immediately; however an experienced Psychologist is required to interpret certain results.

The age old tests in use are:-

  • Thematic Apperception Test (TAT)
  • Situation Reaction Test (SRT)
  • Word Association Test (WAT)
  • Self-Description Test (SDT)

Thematic Apperception Test ( TAT)-Designed as a projective test. It consists of a series of pictures of relatively ambiguous scenes to which subjects are requested to make up stories or fantasies concerning what is, has, and is going to happen, along with a description of the thoughts and feelings of the various characters depicted. The test protocol thus provides the examiner with a rich source of data, based on the subject's perceptions and imagination, for use in the understanding of the subject's current needs, motives, emotions, and conflicts, both conscious and unconscious.

Its use in clinical assessment is generally part of a larger battery of tests and interview data: The manual provides no information on Reliability or Validity. TAT is recommended as a projective method of personality assessment.

Situation Reaction Test (SRT)-Situational Reaction Tests (SRTs) are personnel selection instruments that present job applicants with work-related situations and possible responses to the situations. There are typically 2 types of instructions: behavioural tendency and knowledge.

Behavioural tendency instructions ask respondents to identify how they would likely behave in a given situation. Knowledge instructions ask respondents to evaluate the effectiveness of possible responses to a given situation. No proven Reliability or Validity.

Word Association Test (WAT)- Designed to reveal associative connections between stimuli words and response. The word association method is a psychological test intended to reveal associative connections between stimulus words and free verbal responses.

Although the method has no necessary tie to any theory, it is usually employed as a projective technique. There are no formal scoring procedures employed with this method. The manual provides no Reliability and Validityinformation.

Self-Description Test- (SDT) - In this test the candidate is required to write 5 paragraphs on What his Parents, Teacher/Employer, Classmates/Friends, Candidates own opinion about himself and What qualities he would like to develop for the future. The test has no proven Reliability and Validity.

Need to Change Selection Process of Officers: Reform SSB

SSB Center Kolkata 

We need to address the issue of selection of Officers ab- initio, the present SSB system has inherent flaws. Some glaring examples are:-

  • All of the four Psychological tests are projective and antiquated.
  • TAT and WAT, SRT and SDT do not clear a statistical construct, mandatory in Psychological tests of Reliability and Validity, ie these tests are not reliable nor valid in testing what they propose to test repeatedly (in different batches)
  • The tests are subjective with a skew towards manipulation/bias by all stake holders.
  • SRT has a booklet of 60 questions to be answered in 30 minutes. These booklets cannot be changed every time; there are “N” numbers of question banks of up to 500 plus akin situations available in the market.
  • The coaching centers are having a field day in putting potential candidates through these set piece situations.
  • SDT is a nonstarter, anybody appearing for SSB, who has undergone some coaching knows how to fill up this formatted sheet and can stack up more plus points about him with minor weak points to make an impression or conversely confuse the assessor.

The usefulness and reliability of projective tests depend on a number of factors, including the extent to which identical personality interpretations can be reached by different evaluators (subjective) using the same test data and the extent to which those interpretations are supported by assessments of personality from other sources (e.g., personality inventories and clinical observation).

In consideration of such factors, psychologists are sharply divided over the value of projective tests, despite their prominence in both personality research and therapeutic practice. The projective tests in use at our SSB’s have clearly outlived their utility.

Five Traits that we need to measure in the SSB for Officer cadets are (these subsume the 15 OLQ’s, SSB is basically looking for) :-

  • Interpersonal Competence (Leadership, Team building, Communication)
  • Cognitive Functions (Intelligence, Ability to Plan, Utilization of Resources)
  • Motivation and Drive (Self Starter, Tenacity, Task Completion)
  • Conscientiousness (Careful, Diligent, Dedicated)
  • Emotion (EQ, Care for Troops/Men, Balanced)

There is no need to look for 15 plus OLQ points as the a/m Five have a wide enough scope to include all the points an SSB is looking for and can be scientifically tested by the Modern Psychological tests mentioned. Incidentally out of USA, UK, France, Belgium and Israel none uses a projective Psychometric Test for selection of their Military Officer candidates.

Military tests for Cognitive ability normally measure, Numerical literacy, Verbal literacy, Spatial reasoning, Mechanical/Technical reasoning, Speed/Accuracy/Memory and Higher level reasoning and critical thinking.

The need of the hour is to test a potential Officer Cadet on the following Modern testing parameters in SSB:-

  • Aptitude for the profession of Arms (DAT/DAS)
  • Openness to experience, organized, outgoing, friendly and confident (Big-5)
  • Any trace of thought disorder (MMPI-2)
  • Personality Type (MBTI & PF-16)
  • Self-Concept (Tennessee Self Concept Scale)
  • Values in Life (Study of Values Scale)
  • Leadership and Personality (BIG-5)

Recent cases of suicides in the NDA (seven in last 5 years) and increasing cases of corruption/moral turpitude/ court cases among senior Officers is a malaise which can be traced back to the selection and training system we are following. A longitudinal study, entry wise may reveal some startling facts as to who is more prone to, I–Me-Myself syndrome.

Are the SSB’s failing us in our selection process? Is the DIPR the sine - qua- none of all knowledge on selection of Officers? If some of us are asking for positive reforms, is it blasphemy or a scandal?

It is a known fact that we are what our predominant thoughts are. Since Officers come from different backgrounds/ regions/social strata, there is an urgent need to instill, a Military Value system by way of constant conditioning (Pavlovian) from a young age. A value is something which one holds dear, close to his own existence/Life. Without a robust value system, the Officer class will continue to be rudderless.

Modern Tests & What They Measure?

MMPI-2 (Minnesota MultiPhasic Inventory -2)

  • Measures various Personality Characteristics.
  • Measures Depressive (precursor to suicide) tendencies.
  • Expression of nonconforming attitudes and possible issues with authority.

MBTI (Myers –Briggs Type Indicator)

  • Measures 16  Personality Combinations
  • Extraversion (E) vs Introversion (I),
  • Feeling (F), vs Thinking (T),
  • Sensing (S) vs Intuition (N)
  • Judgment (J) vs Perception (P)
  • Commander Trait Inventory (CTI) is an ENTJ personality (suitable for Officer selection in the Military)

DAT/DAS (Differential Aptitude Tests/Scale)

  • Measures basic aptitude for Military way of Life.
  • Aptitude test batteries typically contain sub-tests giving indications about cognitive qualities such as numerical reasoning, verbal reasoning, spatial ability, mechanical comprehension and general reasoning.
  • In order to classify military candidates, scores can be calculated separate per sub-test, or scores can be grouped in a total score.
  • Such a score is called a composite score, reflecting a general level of cognitive functioning and ability to learn.

PF (Personality Factors by Cattell)

  • Have 16 Personality dimensions.
  • Abstractedness: Imaginative versus practical, Apprehension: Worried versus confident.
  • Dominance: Forceful versus submissive, Emotional Stability: Calm versus high strung.
  • Liveliness: Spontaneous versus restrained, Openness to Change: Flexible versus attached to the familiar.
  • Perfectionism: Controlled versus undisciplined, Private- ness: Discreet versus open.
  • Reasoning: Abstract versus concrete, Rule-Consciousness: Conforming versus non-conforming.
  • Self-Reliance: Self-sufficient versus dependent, Sensitivity:  Tender-hearted versus tough-minded.
  • Social Boldness: Uninhibited versus shy, Tension: Impatient versus relaxed
  • Vigilance: Suspicious versus trusting, Warmth: Outgoing versus reserved
  • Cardinal traits are those that are so dominant that they are expressed across situations and various parts of a person's life. This type of trait is considered rare.
  • Central traits are the core traits that tend to remain relatively stable throughout life. Many trait theories of personality focus on these traits. These traits serve as the "building blocks" of personality.
  • Secondary characteristics are those that emerge in certain situations. These can be inconsistent and may not remain stable over time.

Big -5

  • Openness to experience: (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious).
  • Conscientiousness: (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless)
  • Extraversion: (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved)
  • Agreeableness: (friendly/compassionate vs. challenging/detached)
  • Neuroticism: (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident)
  • The predictive power of the Big Five personality traits is robust across life domains: personal, interpersonal, and social or institutional. Recent research indicated that personality traits may be equally strong predictors of mortality (adding as much as five years to one's life), divorce, and job performance as socioeconomic status and cognitive ability. High neuroticism precedes the development of all common mental disorders.

Self Concept (Tennessee Self Concept Scale) -2

  • The Tennessee Self-Concept Scale-2 (Fitts & Warren, 1997) assesses self concept across multiple domains and also incorporates validity scores (e.g., inconsistency, faking good, self- criticism).
  • The scale is comprised of 82 self-descriptive statements that are rated on a five-point scale (“Always True” to Always False”). It yields two summary scores: Total Self-Concept and Conflict.
  • It has six self-concept scales assessing different domains: Physical, Moral, Personal, Family, Social and Academic/Work. Administration time is approximately 10 to 20 minutes.
  • It can be easily scored in a few minutes by hand. There is also a computer scoring program that generates an interpretive report. It can be easily administered by a trained technician however scores should be interpreted by a professional.
  • Internal Consistency: Internal consistency described in the manual is good (.73 to .95). Test-retest reliability: Test-retest reliability described in the manual was adequate, ranging from .47 to .82.

Study of Values Scale (SOV)

  • Theoretical - Main interest in the discovery of truth; attitudes are cognitive, empirical, critical, and rational; aim is to acquire a systematized knowledge.
  • Economic — Interest in what is useful and practical; interest in consumption of goods and the accumulation of wealth; thinks education should be practical — unapplied knowledge is a waste.
  • Aesthetic — Values beauty, form and harmony; interest in people but not necessarily in their welfare; tends toward individualism and self-sufficiency.
  • Social — Interest in people; has an altruistic, philanthropic love of people; regards love, as itself, the only suitable form of human relationship.
  • Political — Primary interest in power, competition, and struggle; often found in leadership positions.
  • Religious — Values unity; seeks to relate oneself to the universe as a whole; directs self to the creation of the highest and absolutely satisfying values experience.

The Way Forward

GC Cadets Passing out to serve as Commissioned Officers

In all of our study and written work, implementation on ground remains a key lacuna. A concerted time bound effort is required by the highest decision making body to get these recommendations evaluated and push through a pilot project in which the stake holders in Uniform have a major say in process of selection :-

  • COSC needs to take cognizance of this important facet of our selection process and ask for an Independent Test Audit of all Projective Tests being conducted at the behest of DIPR in our SSB’s.
  • In this vision of permanent adaptation, it is important that selection policies, instruments and procedures are developed on the basis of an interaction between research and lessons learnt in military operations.
  • The audit team should have Psychologists of repute from renowned Universities & equal number of Officers exposed to Combat/Insurgency ( 3+3)
  • DIPR has very little stake in Officers intake, the major stake holders are Training Institutions/Units/Fighting Formations. Irony of the situation is, the major stake holders have little say in the selection process.
  • The Modern tests mentioned above can be administered through a Laptop /Computer at the SSB’s with less subjective parameters. The results will be immediately available.
  • The Interview by itself is subjective as there are three methods of conducting an Interview. Structured, Semi Structured and Unstructured. On some parameters the Interview needs to be structured so that comparisons

can be drawn like, on 5-grade scales, of the variables Social ability, Motivation for the profession, Stability, Intellectual ability, Energy and Maturity. The interview manual should define these variables in detail, providing anchors for both extremes of the continuum. A comprehensive rating of General eligibility should be made, based on the six sub-variables.

Harping on old tried and tested methods of selection will yield diminishing returns, it is time we change our selection norms after a thorough analysis of recommendations made.

Comments from Experts

Brig L. C. Patnaik

Psychological Tests for Personality Assessment of SSBs are unique in nature. They have stood the test of time with certain modifications being done based on the feedback. It needs to be understood that projective tests are subjective in nature and need experienced psychologists for interpretation. The author has recommended online tests which is not a difficult proposition. However, the issue of interpretation would still persist.

Scope exists to replace the present TAT/WAT/SRT/SDT; however, new tests must prove their desirable reliability and validity. The MMPI-2 and MBTI/PF-16 still have large issues of validity and the Big-5 Tests on openness is vulnerable to reliability. Study of value scales has so far not undergone psychometric analysis.

The author needs to validate the five components of ‘Big-5’ with the desirable OLQs arrived after due deliberation and job analysis. In my article on “Transformative Approach for Selection Procedure in the Armed Forces”, published in Fauji India (March 2017) and also Chapter 2 of the book Victory India-3 (2016), I had recommended four new factors (Cognitive Ability, Emotional Intelligence, Dynamism and Value System). There is a need to assess the compatibility quotient between the above factors and the components of ‘Big-5’.

It needs to be appreciated that any meaningful change in our selection system needs to be based on strong fundamental personality factors derived out of a deliberate assessment of our nature of job, challenges, threats and value system. As the DIPR study on the proposed De-Novo system is not available for public scrutiny, it may be assumed that the new set of OLQs being determined has been shortlisted after a due process of field study and applied psychology and has the approval of the COSC.

There is also a great need of Clinical Psychologists at the Training Academics to assist the Divisional/Platoon and Company/Squadron Commanders to progressively build up the personality in cadets. Unlike other services, the Armed Forces have longer duration of training at a comparatively younger age profile to mould the personality of future leaders. Due to mounting pressure of physical, emotional and academic rigours of training at the pre-commission academies, clinical psychological support would greatly assist in building a sound personality.

Due to the dynamic nature of battlefield scenarios and involvement of Armed Forces in asymmetrical battles, it is essential to identify future requisite competencies and appropriate measurement techniques. Psychological assessments play a key role for leadership selection in the Armed Forces and also to address ever increasing emotional and administrative challenges.

The COSC/IDS must take serious note of the deficiency of civilian psychologists at the SSBs. The existing practice of posting regular service officers from different Arms/Services must stop forthwith as their little exposure through a three-month capsule study doesn’t provide the requisite competency and skill for professional interpretation of psychological inputs.

The DIPR could consider introduction of Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC) tasks measured by the Exam Corps (US) to assess an individual’s cognitive ability. The test has a high demonstrated validity against job performance of skilled soldiers (0.45). We can also consider other forms of demonstrated reliability of validity tests like NEO-PI/R and TSD-PI (Trait Self Discipline-Personality Inventory) with a high demonstrated validity (0.56) for “Big-5” tests to be applied to our proposed CMA (Cognitive Mental Ability) and Emotional Quality factors. These tests can be conducted online with substantive real-time output, which are also less subjective.

The Recruiting Directorate (Army) and the Personnel Branch of the Air Force and Navy should consider conducting an Armed Forces Aptitude Test to asses Spatial Ability, Intelligence and Problem Solving on a CBT (Computer Based Test) mode by outsourcing to professional agencies like TCS/Wipro. This would greatly reduce the load on the SSBs to conduct the screening tests. Apparently, TCS has conducted similar tests recently for Railways and many State Public Services Commissions. Moreover, any change in the Assessment System must have an integral legal defensibility and should be supported by professional Task Analysis formats to prevent avoidable legal cases.

(Colonel PK “ Royal “ Mehrishi ( Retd) donned the military uniform as a young cadet in a Military School aged 10 Years. An alumnus of NDA he has been an active Infantry Combat Leader for 28 Years. He is also a qualified Clinical Psychologist having completed a solo project commissioned by COAS on Suicides & Fratricides in the Army. He is also a Harvard Business School alumni Certified in “Expert Negotiations” a prolific writer, author of books, TV panelist & Motivational Speaker. He can be reached at E- Mail [email protected]. Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')


🎉 You've successfully subscribed to Mission Victory India!