Military cadets score higher than civilians on tests of personality characteristics critical for effective leadership, finds research in the August supplemental issue of the Div. 19 (Society for Military Psychology) journal Military Psychology (Vol. 18, No. 3).
Future military leaders scored particularly high on measures of perseverance and forgiveness, for example, notes study author Michael D. Matthews, PhD, an engineering psychology professor at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.
Matthews measured the character strengths of study participants-103 West Point freshmen, 141 Royal Norwegian Army cadets and 838 18- to 21-year-old male U.S. civilians who had some college education-using the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths, a set of 24 scales designed by Chris Peterson, PhD, and Martin E.P. Seligman, PhD. The researchers chose to compare Royal Norwegian Army cadets with West Point cadets because their training programs share similar levels of difficulty and prestige.
The participants rated how much they identified with phrases such as "I never quit a task before it is done," which measures persistence, and "I rarely hold a grudge," which measures forgiveness.
Results showed that the absolute scores of West Point cadets were higher than those of the two other groups. This may be because, says Matthews, Norwegians are typically more modest than Americans, and not as likely to rate themselves as highly. Both military groups scored more highly than the civilian group in the areas of honesty, hope, bravery, industry and teamwork-areas that are essential for future leaders-and similar to the formal values espoused by the U.S. Army, says Matthews.
These shared character strengths "suggest that perhaps there is a band of brothers that transcends cultures," says Matthews.
The study lends empirical evidence to U.S. Army doctrine, which names seven core values that are essential in an effective leader: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. Previously, researchers had not yet shown that effective leaders possess these characteristics, says Matthews.
Researchers can also apply such a model to help those who work in stressful situations, such as policemen, firefighters and emergency medical technicians. Once psychologists identify the character strengths that contribute to success in these jobs, they can design interventions to enhance the strengths in people, says Matthews.