Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sleep Deprivation Impairs Troops’ Moral Decision-making Ability

Military officers are asked to make split-second decisions on the battlefield with life or death consequences. By nature, military operations often involve extended periods with little sleep. A team of researchers in Norway wanted to know whether militaries are risking an international incident as well as the lives of troops and civilians and by allowing key decision-makers to operate under extreme sleep deprivation

The study published in the August issue of SLEEP found soldiers are more likely to go “by the book” when making difficult moral decisions on little sleep.

A sample of 71 first-year officer cadets in the Norwegian military participated in the study. Each had at least one year of military service before the study began.

The cadets were presented with five moral dilemmas. The cadets took the test twice: after five sleep-deprived nights and when they were well rested.

Test results show sleep deprivation impaired the more emotionally intelligent cadets’ ability to make mature moral judgments. The officers tended to fall back on their training and behave in a more rule-oriented manner.

Sleep deprivation didn’t harm everyone’s decision-making abilities. Several sleepless nights had little effect on officers with less mature moral reasoning ability.

Researchers were relieved to find that the sleep-deprived officers did not regress into self-centeredness, but feared the possibility unethical decisions based on military “group think.”
Image Courtesy of the U.S. Army

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