7. U.S. Army and Psychology’s Largest Experiment–Ever

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In the January 2011 issue of American Psychologist, the American Psychology Association (APA) dedicated 13 articles to detailing and celebrating a $117 million collaboration with the US Army called Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF).  It’s being marketed as a resilience training to reduce if not prevent adverse psychological consequences to soldiers who endure combat. Because of the CSF emphasis on “positive psychology” advocates call it a holistic approach to warrior training.

Criticism arose shortly after the initiative was announced – including ethical questions about whether soldiers should be desensitized to traumatic events and methodological concerns about large-scale programs similar to this that have either not worked or had adverse effects in the past. Also considered problematic, this program is adapted primarily from the Penn Resiliency Program (PRP), which had very little success with a nonmilitary population, and now in its first trial run plans to incorporate 1.1 million soldiers. Critics maintain it should be tried out first on small groups of soldiers.

Lastly, the CSF program measures soldiers’ “resilience” in five core areas: emotional, physical, family, social and spiritual.  The spiritual component of the assessment contains questions written predominantly for soldiers who believe in God or another deity. This means tens of thousands of nonbelievers will score poorly and be forced to use religious imagery exercises that are counter to their personal beliefs and thus  unlikely to foster resilience.


“Comprehensive Soldier Fitness: A Holistic Approach to Warrior Training,” Jeremy McCarthy, The Psychology of Well Being, August 17, 2010.http://psychologyofwellbeing.com/201008/comprehensive-soldier-fitness.html

“The Dark Side of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness,” Roy Eidelson, Marc Pilisuk and Stephen Soldz, Truthout.org, April 1, 2011. http://www.truthout.org/dark-side-comprehensive-soldier-fitness/1301814000

“Army’s Spiritual Fitness Test Comes Under Fire,” Jason Leopold, Truthout.org, January 5, 2011. http://www.truth-out.org/armys-fitness-test-designed-psychologist-who-inspired-cias-torture-program-under-fire66577

Student Researcher: Rene Arellano, San Francisco State University

Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows, San Francisco State University