If you know anyone in the military, whether they have gone overseas into combat or not, you may have noticed that they have undergone certain changes in their personality. If you have had a child, husband, wife, or other close relative or friend go off to serve our country, you may have witnessed upon return a “changed” man or woman. One, perhaps, who is more serious, dedicated, and responsible; or on the other hand, one who is more aggressive, erratic, and depressed.
There’s no denying the impact that military service has on our service men and women, as the cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicides and attempted suicides continue to rise. And with the recent incident involving Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, there’s even more evidence to support the existence of that very influence.
Yes, combat vets who have seen gruesome events and have lived to remember it for the rest of their lives can certainly be left with deep emotional scars and develop a more aggressive behavior. In Bales’ case, extremely aggressive behavior . . . and according to the recent charges brought against him, murderous behavior. Bales will go on trial for the deaths of 17 Afghan villagers, as well as face charges of attempted murder, aggravated assault, and other violations of military law.
So . . . was it combat, the seemingly endless deployments, or something else entirely that led to such a cold-blooded assault by Sgt. Bales? Or could simply being associated with the military have had an impact?
According to new research, that very possibility exists.
The Military Personality
The research, led by scientists at Washington University in St. Louis, suggests that even without combat, military service can have an impact on a soldier's personality.
To clarify a bit, lead author Joshua J. Jackson, who is an assistant professor of psychology in Arts and Sciences, believes that personality traits play an important role in military training from the get-go. He purports that certain types of personalities will be attracted to join the military in the first place, and after a service term's completion, many people could have a different outlook on life . . . which in turn will lead to changes in personality – sometimes significant changes.
The study, which was recently published online in the scientific journal Psychological Science, found that military men were significantly lower than their civilian counterparts on measures of “agreeableness.” Agreeableness can best be described as that certain trait that allows us to be pleasant and accommodating in different situations, and may even affect our patience.
Individuals who join the military already tend to be more aggressive and competitive than civilians, and the study confirms these traits are compounded with the help of the military. They are less concerned about the feelings of others and cooperation than they are about themselves, and because of this they may come across as less warm and/or friendly. While being less agreeable may negatively impact the servicemen's ability to develop strong relationships, it could have a positive effect on their careers. Having a colder attitude, coupled with intense determination could help soldiers aggressively seek out promotions and higher level jobs successfully.
But How Much is Too Much?
Joining the military was always seen as a “life-changing” experience, and this new study supports this theory with evidence of its own. Through long, grueling days that are controlled by someone else, and difficult situations that you have to learn to overcome, the military can help shape your personality into something more advantageous . . . Even though it may come at the cost of close relationships or friendly traits.
Or, as in the case of Sgt. Bales, it may come at the cost of your sanity . . . and ultimately your freedom.