Performance enhancement for the Green Berets and the detrimental effects of rude co-workers were among the topics covered at the annual conference of APA's Div. 14 (Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology), April 11-13, in Orlando, Fla.
At a session titled "Project A Team: U.S. Army Special Forces assessment and selection," industrial-organizational (I/O) psychologists from the U.S. Army Research Institute and North Carolina State University described their collaborative effort with U.S. Army Special Operations Command to enhance the way Green Berets are selected and trained. The project's goal is to unearth factors that predict how Special Forces soldiers will perform in the field.
"It's a very time-intensive and expensive process to produce a Special Forces soldier," says project researcher Eric Surface, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow with the Army Research Institute. "Because the job they do has a lot of risk involved both personally and in terms of national security and national interests, we want to make sure they have the best training and the best resources possible."
For example, Surface worked with the project's principal investigator, North Carolina State Associate Professor of Psychology Mark A. Wilson, PhD, and other colleagues to survey the leaders of 12-member Special Forces teams around the world on their perceptions of their team members' performance. The researchers are comparing those survey results with the soldiers' assessment, selection and training records to see if factors such as cognitive ability or personality predict their field success. Next, they'll evaluate whether the predictors they come up with actually forecast field performance in a cohort of trainees.
Both Wilson and Surface emphasize that the project's work will tweak an already finely tuned machine. "You have to be extremely good to improve the success rate of an organization that's really picky with who they hire," Wilson says, adding that such selectivity presents research challenges.
"Because the [soldiers] are so highly selected, we get a lot of range restriction," he explains. "That makes the technical aspects of determining validity a little more challenging."
Although current events made the Project A Team session a popular one, I/O psychologists presented on a wealth of other topics at the meeting. For example, Lisa Penney, PhD, an adjunct professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, presented research that found that 69 percent of 300 workers she surveyed reported experiencing condescending behavior and put-downs on the job. Moreover, those who reported workplace incivility were more likely to engage in counterproductive behaviors, such as making derogatory remarks about their company, slowing down work so deadlines aren't met and being rude to customers or clients.
"Even though [incivility] may not seem like a very serious thing," says Penney, "it is related to behaviors that have more serious consequences" that can affect companies' bottom lines.