When the first two volumes of the series, Studies in Social Psychology in World War II1Studies in Social Psychology in World War II (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press). Vol. I: Samuel A. Stouffer, Edward A. Suchman, Leland C. DeVinney, Shirley A. Star, and Robin M. Williams, Jr., The American Soldier: Adjustment During Army Life (1949). Vol. II: S. A. Stouffer, Arthur A. Lumsdaine, Marion H. Lumsdaine, R. M. Williams, Jr., M. Brewster Smith, Irving L. Janis, S. A. Star, and Leonard S. Cottrell, Jr., The American Soldier: Combat and Its Aftermath (1949). Vol. III: Carl I. Hovland, A. A. Lumsdaine, and Fred D. Sheffield, Experiments in Mass Communication (1949). Vol. IV: S. A. Stouffer, Louis Guttman, E. A. Suchman, Paul F. Lazarsfeld, S. A. Star, and John A. Clausen, Measurement and Prediction (1950).—entitled The American Soldier—appeared in 1949, professionals in the social sciences had their first in-depth look at the product of perhaps the most ambitious effort yet made to apply modern research methods to the study of individual and organizational behavior. Reviewers were poised to praise or to deplore, based partly on their predilections for quantitative or qualitative research and partly on what they thought social scientists should have been doing within the military setting.2The early book reviews are analyzed by Daniel Lerner in Robert K. Merton and Paul F. Lazarsfeld, editors, Continuities in Social Research: Studies in the Scope and Method of “The American Soldier.” Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1950. See also Smith (1984) for a discussion of the early reviews and the arguments pro and con. For a brief period, The American Soldier volumes were subject to much controversy; then, like old soldiers and old scientific publications, they gradually faded into the background. But the work still provides a base line for studies of enlisted men and to a lesser degree studies of army organization, and the volumes are apparently still of interest to historians.
Many of us who participated in the research that resulted in Studies in Social Psychology in World War II (hereafter referred to, as is now conventional, as The American Soldier or simply TAS) were unaware of the critical role that the Council played in the creation of the United States Army’s Research Branch, the recruitment of its staff, and the final arrangements that made possible the production of a scholarly work from the great mass of data collected. Because several recent papers have dealt with the contributions of these volumes and their influence, good or bad, upon subsequent research and theory, I shall dwell less on assessment and more on a description of how the enterprise came to be, in this brief note celebrating the 40th anniversary of the appearance of the first three volumes.
In the late 1930s, one of the most active and influential of the Council’s committees was that on social adjustment. It was a small committee, consisting of only three persons, Ernest W. Burgess, sociologist, as chairman, psychologist A. T. Poffenberger, and Frederick Osborn, who was an unusual combination of successful business executive and student of population and eugenics. Osborn was also a trustee of the Carnegie Corporation which contributed funds to a number of the Council’s activities. The Committee on Social Adjustment operated through a series of subcommittees, one of which—on the Prediction of Social Adjustment—was chaired by Samuel A. Stouffer. Frederick Osborn was well acquainted with Stouffer and appreciated the methodological sophistication and organizational skills that he had shown in a number of activities. Osborn was also a close friend of his Hudson River Valley neighbor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. When, in 1941, it became apparent that the United States must expand its fighting forces, President Roosevelt asked Osborn to take responsibility for the Army’s educational, recreational, and welfare program. The newly commissioned Brigadier General quickly recruited, first as consultants and then as staff members, a number of men he had come to know and respect through the Council.“Suffice it to say that the network of consultants and senior staff who had known each other through the Council was enlarged by the addition of many of their former students.”
How the Research Branch was built up, and how it operated, are described in Chapter 1 of Volume 1 of The American Soldier. Suffice it to say that the network of consultants and senior staff who had known each other through the Council was enlarged by the addition of many of their former students. To my knowledge, no one among them had been a student of military affairs, though a 1941 Council bulletin (The Prediction of Personal Adjustment), to which several contributed, had contained a “Memorandum on Prediction and National Defense” (most probably written by Stouffer, but attributed to the whole subcommittee). As a consultant, Stouffer had had enough experience with government agencies to have considerable understanding of the problems of carrying out, within a large bureaucracy, research that would not only be potentially useful, but actually used. He had no illusion that the Research Branch existed primarily to contribute to social science. The purpose of the Branch, in Stouffer’s succinct statement, “was to provide the Army command quickly and accurately with facts about the attitudes of soldiers which, among other facts and inferences, might be helpful in policy formulation” (Vol. I, page 5).
The great bulk of the roughly 200 surveys carried out during the course of the war were responsive to requests for information by upper-level Army commanders. A few were done in response to requests at the divisional or base level. Much of the information obtained was of very limited value for social science but helped the Army command know the perceptions and misperceptions of enlisted personnel and enabled it to look anew at policies that appeared to be seriously problematic. Summaries of some of the early surveys were reported in graphic form in 1942 in a publication called What the Soldier Thinks. After two issues, the Army’s Chief of Staff, General Marshall, ordered that a monthly periodical be prepared and distributed to officers throughout the Army. Although some critics have stated that only one major policy decision (that regarding priorities in demobilization, the so-called point system) was based upon Research Branch studies, there is reason to believe that many of the findings reported in What the Soldier Thinks, which are summarized in simple, readable style, had value for officers at various command levels.
What was too novel, too contrary to tradition to have gained general acceptance in our universities or in industry, was accepted by the Army at the very time of its greatest pressures for training and combat. The conservatism natural to professional men everywhere, and often particularly ascribed to the professional soldier, was broken down by the imaginative grasp of the abler leaders. Throughout the Army there were officers to whom these new methods of determining soldier attitudes seemed to promise new and sounder premises on which to base many of their decisions.
Further, we made a remarkable discovery. The Army gave little weight to our personal opinions; but when these opinions were supported by factual studies, the Army took them seriously. For the first time on such a scale, the attempt to direct human behavior was, in part at least, based on scientific evidence. If this method could be developed and more widely used, it might provide further impetus for a great advance in the social relations of man.
—Frederick Osborn, from the Foreword to The American Soldier: Adjustment during Army Life (Studies in Social Psychology in World War II, Volume 1)
When the war ended, Stouffer was not content to let the matter rest with our merely having done something useful to the Army. It was clear that he had long been thinking about a more lasting contribution; he wished to arrive at generalizations that went beyond the immediate problems defined by the Army command. He hoped to codify such evidence as we had accumulated about combat effectiveness, relationships among categories of Army personnel (by rank, branch of service, assignments in the field, race, etc.), the role of values and beliefs, the effectiveness of educational approaches and other substantive issues, as well as methodological developments that derived from staff and consultant efforts. Again, General Osborn and the Council made such an effort possible. Although many members of the staff went back to their universities or other jobs, a small group remained in Washington with Stouffer for the better part of a year and a few others worked in university settings to produce the books that were sketched out very soon after the surrender of Japan. It would not have been possible to do this on the government payroll, but a grant from the Carnegie Corporation to the Council provided for the support of staff and for publication arrangements. Donald Young, who had just become the full-time executive director of the Council, presided over the planning committee that coordinated the complex process.
Current assessments of TAS“Some military historians and other engaged in comparative research have examined the findings of The American Soldier and compared them with data on other armies in other periods.”
In the opening chapter of Volume I, Stouffer noted that the volumes were written for three audiences: the Armed Forces, historians, and (main audience) social psychologists and sociologists. We do not know in detail how much use the Armed Forces made of TAS after the war, but Robin Williams (1989) notes that the books were used in the military academies where several of the authors lectured after the war. As to the use of the volume by historians, I am aware of only one major analysis, that by Buck (1985) who saw the volumes as “enormously influential” but faulted the Research Branch for having diverted attention away from the study of the effects of technology and for subsequent misguided attempts by “sociologists and social psychologists to ground their empirical and applied research on basic theoretical principles.” Some military historians and others engaged in comparative research have examined the findings of The American Soldier and compared them with data on other armies in other periods. The influence of the volumes on subsequent social science research on the military is certainly well established. Moskos (1976) asserted that
any discussion of the common or enlisted soldier must use as a benchmark the studies of World War II reported in the volumes of The American Soldier by Stouffer and his associates. Never before or since have so many aspects of military life been so systematically studied.
In general, it is not fashionable to cite empirical studies from four decades ago, but if The American Soldier is not always cited, it has certainly provided a substantial portion of the cumulative knowledge on which current social scientists build. Moreover, many discussions of the desegregation of the Army after World War II note that the data presented in TAS on attitudes of black soldiers and on the incorporation of black replacements in combat infantry companies—where acceptance increased with increasing familiarity—had a delayed but significant effect on this major policy decision.
Beyond this, there were, as Robin Williams (1989) has pointed out, significant effects upon the social sciences generally, some quite direct, and others more indirect or subtle. The direct effects are most clearly seen in the work of a number of highly active workers in the areas of communication research, social psychology, and methodology. One might say that they have been the pathways through which the indirect effects have come about.
Among the direct influence of TAS was the introduction of the concept of “relative deprivation,” akin to Herbert Hyman’s concept of “reference group” and subsequently elaborated into reference group theory by Robert K. Merton. Lumsdaine (1984) has noted some of the influences on communication research of the work carried out by the staff of the Experimental Section of the Branch and published in Volume III of the series, Experiments on Mass Communication, edited by Carl Hovland. Several members of the group returned to Yale after the war; their research on the analysis of persuasive communication and on the philosophy and technology of field experimentation for assessing the effects of educational programs has provided an important model for the field.
Volume IV, Measurement and Prediction, introduced the Guttman scale and Louis Guttman’s systematic presentation of the principal components of scale analysis as well as Paul Lazarsfeld’s latent structure analysis. The importance of the Guttman scale was immediately recognized by most methodologists but the full impact of the other analytic concepts required the development of more advanced means of data processing than were available at the end of World War II.
Not the least of the direct effects were those on the subsequent careers of the participants. Many chose to work in areas that had a substantial application to issues of public policy and public health or to pursue topics that became salient to them primarily as a consequence of the Research Branch experience (Clausen, 1984). The network of ties established in their wartime experience has been as influential as were those ties that affected the creation of the Branch. Together with the research arms of the Office of War Information and the US Strategic Bombing Survey, the War Department’s Research Branch ranks as a major training ground for those who participated in the great expansion of the social sciences in postwar America.
Clausen, John A. “Research on the American Soldier as a Career Contingency.” Social Psychology Quarterly, 47:207–213, 1984.
Lumsdaine, Arthur. “Mass Communication Experiments in Wartime and Thereafter.” Social Psychology Quarterly, 47:198–206, 1984
Moskos, Charles. “The Military.” Alex Inkeles, James S. Coleman, and Neil J. Smelser, editors, Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 2. Palo Alto, CA: Annual Review Inc., 1976.
Smith, M. Brewster. “The American Soldier and its Critics: What Survives the Attack on Positivism?” Social Psychology Quarterly, 47: 192–198, 1984.
Williams, Robin M., Jr. “The American Soldier; An Assessment, Several Wars Later.” Public Opinion Quarterly, 53(2): 155–174, Summer 1989.
John A. Clausen (1915–1996) was professor emeritus at the Institute of Human Development, University of California, Berkeley. He was a member of the Council’s Committee on Psychiatry and Social Science Research from 1952–57 and served as chair of the Committee on Socialization and Social Structure from 1960–68. Clausen also served on the Council’s Board of Directors from 1961–3. He is a coauthor of Measurement and Prediction (Volume IV of Studies in Social Psychology in World War II).
This essay originally appeared in Items Vol. 43, No. 3 in September of 1989. Visit our archives to view the original as it first appeared in the print editions of Items.
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