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'Unfounded' Wars Heighten Impact of Soldiers' PTSD, Study Suggests

Common Dreams staff

When a country wages war for reasons that ultimately prove 'unfounded'—not to mention 'illegal' 'immoral' or 'socially abhorrent'—the impact on those asked to fight it can be profound.

This is the central finding of a new study to be released next month in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin and reported on by Raw Story.

Employing "an experimental design to better understand the relationship between social validation for killing and PTSD," the researchers attempted to create a controlled experience that could at least partially replicate the way that social and moral pressures interact with soldiers asked to perform violence on the battlefield.

As Raw Story explains:

For their study, Webber and his colleagues had undergraduate students complete an “extermination task,” which involved killing ten woodlice with a coffee grinder. During one scenario, the student witnessed another participant completely refuse to kill the bugs because doing so was wrong. In a second scenario, the student witnessed another participant readily agree to kill the bug. In a third scenario, which was used as a control condition, the student had no interaction with another participant.


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The study found that the students reported more distress and guilt when they perceived their actions to be social invalidated by others. When the killing of bugs appeared to be socially validated, on the other hand, the students reported less distress and guilt.

Webber told Raw Story that the research did not directly address PTSD in veterans, since killing bugs was obviously far removed from killing another human. But the study did find evidence that socially-constructed moral standards influenced feelings of distress and guilt.

Describing the impact that social opposition--such as public protest or condemnation of the war effort--has on soldiers, lead researcher Prof. David Webber told Raw Story that “War protest usually only occurs when that war is unfounded. If war is enacted for legitimate reasons, the public will usually support that effort. It is during times when there is no clear end goal for a war, or when the reasons for fighting are unclear that protest escalates, which leads to a war being invalidated.”

Read the full story here.


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