Better soldiers will come from using behavioural sciences


The 2014 Defence Review describes the African peace climate as “persistently troubled” making the continent an ideal candidate for behavioural sciences research, an avenue the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR’s) behavioural science capability is geared to in both soldier selection and support programmes.

Adelai van Heerden, manager of the behavioural research group, said: “In the face of severe political, ethnic, cultural, tribal, linguistic and religious tensions in Africa, its defence forces are required to not only master sophisticated weapons and systems, but also to have a comprehensive understanding of culture, customs and languages”.

Building on techniques developed within the specialised African military domain over more than a decade, the CSIR is offering African solutions within military domains for specific requirements.

One specific area of research looks at testing applicants wanting to join a specialised military force.

By assessing mental toughness and physical endurance and strength, behavioural scientists are able to predict if the applicant is better suited as an operator or in a management role.
“Bearing in mind the considerable resources that go into the training of military personnel, this type or research will go a long way in reducing the number of dropouts,” Van Heerden said.
“Our methodology entails the inclusion of practical and innovative research approaches aimed at offering unique solutions to our clients. CSIR researchers work closely with each military client to ensure the solutions we offer are relevant to that specific unit.”

CSIR behavioural sciences research looks at a wide range of organisational psychology areas including military recruitment, training, selection and evaluation, military career management, trauma management, leadership development, individual personality assessment and life skills.
“Research is performed from a cultural psychology perspective that brings together psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists and scientists from a wide array of research areas. The focus of our research within the military psychology domain is to study, predict and develop optimal performance related to cultural meanings, individual motivation, coping under pressure, reasoning methods and emotional regulation. Cultural psychology is important as it enables a better understanding of military recruits in terms of their belief systems, including their contextual and cultural backgrounds. Subsequently, we gain insight into how the individual might approach specialised military training requirements,” she said.

The CSIR works closely with several local and international organisations in order to further its research in behavioural sciences. Partners include South African universities, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Military Psychology Institute and the force itself – all instrumental in the implementation of national safety and security strategies.

The 2014 Defence Review noted in future, defence forces will find themselves increasingly employed in non-military roles that will rely on their readiness profile, training, and ability to perform organised actions.

The CSIR aims to assist South African forces to be ready for whatever the future holds, be it natural disasters or serious civil contingencies.
“Research has already added considerable value to force effectiveness. In order to continue to effectively do their duty, the SANDF will require the right number of soldiers appointed at the correct levels of seniority. It will also need soldiers who are mentally equipped to deal with extremely stressful situations. The CSIR is committed to assist our forces in preparing for any security threats,” Van Heerden said.