Publication Date

April 2015


Joslyn Barnhart Trager


General Scholarship


English (United States)


The past century saw rapid advancements in technology, especially through the United States military. Simultaneously, rates of posttraumatic stress symptoms and other combat-related disorders are rising. However, little has been published in any discipline relating the changes in technology to the changes in rates of posttraumatic stress reactions. Because of the lack of research exploring whether there is a link between specific technological advancements and soldiers’ reactions to combat trauma, my thesis provides one of the first systematic examinations of ways specific technologies used in warfare affect whether and how soldiers develop posttraumatic stress disorders. It draws on existing psychological research and theories and develops a series of hypotheses evaluating the links between specific technologies and long-term effects on soldiers’ reactions to combat trauma. Chapter Two discusses technological advancements/research from military analysts, historians, and philosophers, and it also discusses psychological research involved in the military, about soldiers, and about psychological trauma. This provides a foundation and context from which Chapters Three and Four discuss the psychological effects of specific technologies and hypothesize how they affect risk factors associated with developing posttraumatic stress disorder. Chapter Three discusses simulation technologies, the main technology used before combat, and hypothesizes that simulation technologies simultaneously increase the likelihood of reflexively killing in combat and experiencing peritraumatic dissociation and increase the likelihood of perceiving higher levels of control during combat. Chapter Four discusses technologies in warfare that manipulate actual and perceived distance (night vision goggles, aircraft, UAVs) and are involved in weapons systems (systems approach). It hypothesizes that new technologies in war are increasing perceived psychological distance (including dehumanization), which dissipate over time. It also hypothesizes that dehumanization dissipates as cognitive empathy and guilt increase over time (risk factors for PTSD). Chapter Four further hypothesizes that weapons systems increase diffusion of responsibility and psychological distance, which have implications for perceptions of responsibility/guilt and the changing face of understanding trauma. These hypotheses are important because they will expand the understanding of risk and protective factors to include implemented military technology. Knowing this will help us develop better preparation and treatment for soldiers prior to, during, and after combat. It will also point out faults in technology used by soldiers that could increase their risk for developing posttraumatic stress disorder. Redesigning this technology will help the military not just focus on producing effective soldiers, but also more effectively support the mental health of soldiers in the future, particularly as technology becomes even more pervasive in soldiers’ lives.



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