What happens if soldiers get a “psychological vaccination”?

American researchers are working on “psychological vaccination” against the horrors of war in order to help soldiers avoid post-traumatic stress disorder, according to The Economist. About 17% of US troops returning from Iraq and 11% of those from Afghanistan have some form of psychological trauma. A team led by Skip Rizzo at the University of Southern California is using virtual reality to harden soldiers to the carnage and brutality. The sights, sounds, smells and vibrations of battlefield conditions can be recreated in a laboratory – without the danger.

“The virtual training course Dr Rizzo and his team have developed leads soldiers through a tour of duty that includes seeing and handling human remains, experiencing the death of virtual comrades to whom they have become emotionally close, and watching helplessly as a child dies. Unlike a real battlefield, though, a virtual one can be frozen, and events occurring there discussed at leisure. When that happens, a virtual mentor emerges from the midst of the chaos to guide the user through stress-reduction tactics he can deploy.”

The Economist says that soldiers who are still unable to bear the horrors could be exempted from duties on the battlefield, thus making the remaining soldiers a tougher and more cohesive unit.

What is overlooked is the bioethical dilemmas. What about the possibility of “psychological vaccination” against compassion, physical restraint and fairness so that soldiers act like the characters in Halo or World of Warcraft? 

This article is published by Michael Cook and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

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