Education and reflection in extreme situations
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When looking into officer cadets’ identity, social identity appears to play a decisive role among officer cadets when participating in exercises. In the winter time, using the uniqueness of a military exercise, cadets were left standing half-naked and blindfolded on a wharf and given the offer of jumping into the icy ocean or not jumping. The offer was the first step into a reflecting dialogue, fundamental to the topic this thesis is exploring: how reflection in situation discloses identity and how this identity influences action. Paper I (N=21) explores the tension between the individual self and social identity as it came into play in an ambiguous military situation. In the reflecting dialogue the cadets reflected on the reasons for the decision they made. The analysis of the reflecting dialogue developed three categories: The personal level, jumping was associated with a possibility to learn about stress and coping; the group level, the cadets took on a social identity in which refusing to jump elicited feelings of exclusion from the group; the organizational level, the officer role and norms associated with the exercise facilitated action that confirmed the values of duty and honor. The social influence that emerged as a central force in this first paper was then examined further. Paper II (N=128) examines the relative influence of the officers’ personal and social identity as predictors of action in a military situation. When the officers were given the option of jumping into the ocean, 69% of them decided to jump. The reasons for such behavior were explored through logistic regression in two steps. Step 1, Personal Characteristics, with such predictors as hardiness, resilience, and risk perception, predicted in different directions and with limited power. Step 2, Social Reference in Situation, predicted jumping positively with great power. The probability of jumping was .31, given no social reference, compared to .93, given social reference. The social reference in the situation was associated with social comparison and social identity as officer cadets. Academy affiliation was the background for further exploration of their social identity. Given participants from the Norwegian Air Force, Navy, Army, and Police Academies, Paper III (N=128) explores differences between the academies with respect to identity in a given situation. Analysis of each cadet’s reflection process disclosed different identities related to academy affiliation. Navy: Personal –emphasizing rationality and free will. Air Force/Police: Relational – emphasizing the fear of being the only one not jumping. Army: Collective – emphasizing the social identity of being a soldier and a man. The behavioral response mirrored such differences through a range from 43.2% at the Naval Academy to 78.6% at the Army Academy. Thus, the educational background had an influence with respect to reflection and action in the situation. Examining the influence of social identity, Paper IV (N=75) tests the effect of an induced social norm on action in the water jump situation. Participants in the experiment were given the offer of jumping within different experimental conditions. The different proportions of jumping between people having no norm induced and those who received an induced anti-jump norm were significant. The simple presence of a peer who modeled the anti-jump position was sufficient to reduce the jump rate from 76% to 51%. This demonstrated how the minority influenced the majority. From a psychological perspective, the picture emerging is that uncertain stress situations involve a complex process in which it could be difficult to explore the mechanisms involved. As opposed to the personality tradition, officers seem to enter into a person-situation interaction which predicts action. Moreover, this power of the situation is merely explained by whether social comparison takes place and whether a social identity is taken on. It seems as though people are subject to the power of the situation and social identity. However, perhaps the most promising finding was that the minority has influence, as the inducement of an anti-jump norm inhibited action. From an educational perspective, the design of the current study could make a contribution to military education. With respect to classroom lecturing, this study argues for a kind of pedagogy that takes place in extreme situations, between a harsh physical environment and social environment. However, the greatest contribution is made by the reflection dialogue that takes place as the situation plays out. In addition to the empirical findings, this reflection process provided knowledge on personal versus social identity to people in the situation. Finally, this thesis argues that the reflection process described in this study has potential for giving insights into a person’s self-regulation in situations of greater importance than the water jump.