Sunday, February 05, 2012

UAV pilots and cognitive dissonance

There was an interesting comparison I recently read about that at first seems counter-intuitive but actually matches some of the advanced psychology I have been reading about over the past year or two. 

So now that I have you curious (I hope) – the finding is that UAV pilots who work in Arizona, fly drones remotely on Afghanistan missions, but work regular 9am-5pm shifts and get to go home to their families, are much more susceptible to PTSD than either drone pilots who fly the missions from Afghanistan bases or even pilots who have to fly the missions themselves. 

I think it is counter-intuitive to the non-expert (and me at first) because you would think that having a normal life outside of work, having dinner with the family, weekends mowing the lawn, time with the spouse, would reduce the stress of the UAV missions whereas going back to the barracks, hanging out with other soldiers, and thinking about nothing but the war all day would not.

But it is counterintuitive because of the concept of cognitive dissonance.  Soldiers who are in Afghanistan get themselves into a 24/7 mindset that they are at war.  It makes it easier to fly kill missions (with UAVs or personally) when you get to talk it out with fellow soldiers who just got back from doing the same thing.  They can dissociate themselves from the brutality of their jobs.  It's like a dream world.

But when you live at home, you have to switch back and forth twice a day between the two worlds. 
“How was your day honey?” becomes a really tough question to answer when you bombed a Taliban safe house killing everyone inside.  How can you possible help your daughter with her homework and go to a PTA meeting when you get home from work?  This is definitely an example of cognitive dissonance.  It is this constant dissonance that compounds the PTSD, not the UAV missions themselves.