October 28, 2009

Situational Awareness

Tony Perry of the LA Times reports:
As Marines train to deploy to war zones, there is daily discussion about how to detect and disarm the buried roadside bombs that are the No. 1 killer of Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Military researchers have found that two groups of personnel are particularly good at spotting anomalies: those with hunting backgrounds, who traipsed through the woods as youths looking to bag a deer or turkey; and those who grew up in tough urban neighborhoods, where it is often important to know what gang controls which block.

Personnel who fit neither category, often young men who grew up in the suburbs and developed a liking for video games, do not seem to have the depth perception and peripheral vision of the others, even if their eyesight is 20/20.

The findings do not surprise Army Sgt. Maj. Todd Burnett, the top enlisted man with the Pentagon-based Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO, which conducted the study. He's made multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and ridden in more than 1,000 convoys and, on 19 occasions, been in a vehicle hit by a roadside bomb.

The best troops he's ever seen when it comes to spotting bombs were soldiers from the South Carolina National Guard, nearly all with rural backgrounds that included hunting.

"They just seemed to pick up things much better," Burnett said. "They know how to look at the entire environment."

Troops from urban backgrounds also seemed to have developed an innate "threat-assessment" ability. Both groups, said Army research psychologist Steve Burnett, "seem very adaptable to the kinds of environments" seen in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Video game enthusiasts are narrower in their focus, as if the windshield of their Humvee is a computer screen. "The gamers are very focused on the screen rather than the whole surrounding," said Sgt. Maj. Burnett (no relation to the research psychologist).

About 800 military personnel at Twentynine Palms and several other bases took part in a complex set of vision and perception tests, follow-up interviews and personality tests. Test subjects were asked to find hidden bombs in pictures, videos, virtual reality exercises and open-air obstacle courses, including on pitch-dark nights.

Although many of the findings remain classified -- lest the enemy discover what the U.S. has learned about its methods of burying and detonating the devices -- military officials agreed to discuss the eyesight portion of the study.

The study was completed in June, and its results are being circulated for peer review to researchers with security clearances. It took 18 months to carry out and cost $5.4 million.

After eight years of war and billions of dollars spent on electronic detection, the best technology for spotting improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, remains the sharp-eyed Marine, soldier or sailor.

Back in the 1960s, the Air Force officer qualifying exam had a 100 item Officer Biographical Inventory. The latter was a personality test that asked about "past experiences, preferences, and certain personality characteristics related to measures of officer effectiveness." It inquired into enthusiasm for sports and hunting, and was only vaguely correlated with IQ.

(A retired Air Force test psychologist told me that this section was later dropped because women did very poorly on it, and urban and suburban youths didn't do as well as country boys. "It was politically incorrect, but"—he recalled wistfully—"It was a predictor of success as an officer.")

As for the guys who defuse the roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, the EODs, plain old IQ is one necessary factor. Kathryn Bigelow, director of last summer's fine Iraq movie The Hurt Locker, pointed that out in all the interviews she did.

Beaks: One thing I don't think people take into account with these guys is how highly intelligent they have to be to get assigned to a bomb squad unit.

Bigelow: That's an aspect that's very, very critical. You're invited into EOD [Explosive Ordinance Disposal] because you've scored on an aptitude test at a very high level. You're definitely a rare kind of individual. And to amplify what you're saying, you have to take into consideration that this is a volunteer military. So these are individuals who have an extremely high IQ and have chosen - after being invited into EOD - to take on the most dangerous job in the world.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

59 comments:

Anonymous said...

How about all those "alphas" hunting tail in urban bars and clubs?

Middletown Girl said...

And people who've seen and survived a lot of real reality tend to spot intellectual or political BS faster than people who got their view of reality through PBS, which should be called Public Bullsh--.

It's no wonder that no matter how many books or films Ken Burns may have read or watched, his intellect cannot see beyond the perimeters of political correctness and white boy blandness nurtured into him by suburban/academic/gentrified yuppie life.

Anonymous said...

Video game enthusiasts are narrower in their focus, as if the windshield of their Humvee is a computer screen.

Hunters, at least rifle hunters, may have the best of both worlds as they have to switch between looking at the whole environment and quickly narrow their focus on the target.

I used to hunt a bit when I was younger and it is true that you learn to look at your surroundings. For example, you learn to walk in rough terrain without looking at your feet.

Later, in the Finnish army, some of the officers told us that hunters are often adequate marksmen but usually not the best. Best marksmen were either experienced in target practice or people who had no earlier experience with guns.

kudzu bob said...

I grew up in the rural South. As a boy I hunted my share of rabbits and squirrels, and also spent a lot of time gathering morel mushrooms, all with the goal of putting food on the table. I can attest that engaging in such activities rewires the brain, so that one learns to pick out relevant detail from an otherwise meaningless visual jumble.

It is hardly a secret that Southerners and Westerners typically make better soldiers than do other Americans. That is part of the reason why.

Bob said...

Here comes the hillbilly preening.....

Anonymous said...

I doubt soldiers with
"urban" backgrounds are really any better than those with
"suburban" backgrounds at detecting IED's. The article makes that claim, but then all the evidence it gives is about "rural" soldiers.

Pat Shuff said...

Lots of duck and partridge hunting in my native northern MN as a lad (Frostbite Falls, Canadian border.) One certainly comes to one's sense, attuned to the surroundings in the here and now, animal senses brought to the forefront in concert up from somewhere in ancestral roots. Every sight, sound, smell, dapple of sinking sunlight, rustle of squirrel, breeze on the cheek.

Don't know about the gender thingy.
I've read the male eye is constructed slightly different, more attuned to movement, but in my experience a sister, mother, little niece, aunt, girlfriends in the party....were dang effective partridge spotters, often the best in the bunch, and at least in that hunting, outdoorsy culture had no qualms about dispatching some tasty fast food with precision and aplomb.
Well, after getting over it a time or two.

Anonymous said...

This bears out... my cousin Dennis is a very successful EOD Marine Master Sergeant (close to finishing his twenty) born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio, a mere spit from the Pennsylvania border. He both hunted in PA and attended a rather majority black school (he's white) and had to studiously avoid the black racism daily. He actually joked once that he had to "long-eye" the alleys home to determine a safe passage. Interesting when one article brings disparate bits of information together, but I've suddenly come to understand my cousin - and his career choice - much better.

headache said...

This was also the case in South Africa and Rhodesia. Most of the good soldiers came from farms, where hunting, using a rifle and killing animals was normal business. They also had a feel for the land and understood the mentality of black people. You couldn't fool them. The city guys would often excel at mechanical tasks or leadership (organization), but the country boys were the better soldiers.

l said...

I seem to recall the military's lauding video games -- especially 'first person shooter' games like Halo, Medal of Honor, Navy Seal, America's Army, Grand Theft Auto -- for giving soldiers the skillz needed for combat: Quick reaction times, casual disregard for human life, etc. Maybe they're more valuable as recruiting tools.

Anonymous said...

Basically, we are now trying to implement COIN (Counterinsurgency) in Afghanistan which requires: Empathy, Intelligence, and Creativity. Those 3 traits together in one human being typically only occur in people of White European descent. Plus, the people in America that probably most intuitively understand the tribabl mentality in Afghanistan and Iraq are those from hunting families and not middle class "gamers."

Shawn said...

I wonder what the minimum required IQ is for a bomb defuser?

I went over the the Navy's site regarding this:

http://www.navy.com/about/navylife/onduty/eod/trainingandpay/

From what I can tell, everyone in the videos are actual military people and not actors. I also noticed that they are all White. It seems like this is one area where the government is not willing to enable racial preferences towards NAMs.

D. Smolken said...

So if you want an effective army, you should make your cities as crime-ridden as possible, right? Makes sense from a government's point of view.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if playing sports has a role in developing situational awareness. My son loves video games, but he also plays ice hockey, a sport where depth perception and peripheral vision are used to keep track of the puck and the other players. There aren't many opportunities for inner city kids or their rural counterparts to play hockey, but basketball is similar in the demands it places on a player's attention, as I suppose most sports are.

Anonymous said...

The same pattern played out among soldiers from the various colonies of the British Empire.

The Australian and South Africa were superior specimins than those drawn from urban Britian. The local pro-British and imported Aussies were better suited to the guerilla warfare of the Boer War than the homecountry Brits were. Such advantages in soldiering were wasted in diseased meatgrinders like WWI trench warfare.

You can see this in international sporting events today. Compare olympic medals per capital between ethnic euro Brits from England and those from Australia or South African.

Edward said...

How about all those "alphas" hunting tail in urban bars and clubs?

Gatherers not hunters!

Inside the club environmental awareness is not tested too much, even if you're a bouncer. What's required is interpersonal awareness which is something different and a traditionally female skill - who is friends with whom, and judging emotional states from posture and facial expression.

Difference Maker said...

A damned interesting article. Reminders of masculinity are always welcome.

"How about all those "alphas" hunting tail in urban bars and clubs?"

This at first glance is a side issue (a petty one at that) and I don't wish to distract. Nevertheless I'll leave a comment.

The club is social rather than combat oriented, although one must always be ready for confrontation. Now, if women are attracted to you it is pretty obvious, however subtle, except to autistics.

Mark said...

Troops from urban backgrounds also seemed to have developed an innate "threat-assessment" ability.

You see, so the Mexican invasion is doing us good, damnit! I told you so. I told you there was value in having so many drunk drivers and gang rapists roaming the streets. The security of our nation depends on them!

Personnel who fit neither category, often young men who grew up in the suburbs and developed a liking for video games, do not seem to have the depth perception and peripheral vision of the others, even if their eyesight is 20/20.

Thy also tend to think that if you get all blowed up it be no big deal, cos you get an extra life an all dat.

fish said...

How about all those "alphas" hunting tail in urban bars and clubs?

Sorry....still a two dimensional environment.


.

Q said...

It was already old news when Machiavelli noted in The Prince that the best training for a soldier is hunting from an early age.

albertosaurus said...

Let's see if I get this. Boys and men who have a background in walking around in the outdoors with a rifle do better in the military when they walk around in the outdoors with a rifle.

Who'd a thunk it?

Thursday said...

Lots of trouble separating nature and nurture on this one.

Some people have more natural situational awareness than others. But one can improve through practice.

Thursday said...

There are two types of skill that:

1. Some people take in more data through the senses.

2. Soem people are better at processing data once it is in their brains.

People who aren't very good at reading situations (they lack in category 1) but are very smart (are gifted in category 2) tend to be called nerds. They can take other peoples data and make sense of it, but often can't gather their own.

Good novelists would be a good example of the kind of people who are good at both.

David said...

One thing that may have slipped by us all is that Obummer signed the ADL's "hate speech" bill yesterday (Oct. 28).

Whoops! Free speech scampered away in the bush...not to be seen again.

I for one welcome our loving and superior Jewish and homosexual, ulp, I mean ALL-AMERICAN and GAY overlords.

Grumpy Old Man said...

Eliminating relevant data of life-and-death relevance because the results aren't politically correct--craziness.

If it's Harvard vs. Preddy Prairie State, that's one thing--who can detect bombs best--that's sacrificing lives for some goofy ideology.

Usually Lurking said...

The one link seems to be broken. I believe that this is what you wanted to link to: http://www.dvc.org.uk/jeff/jeff11_2.html

Great piece.

kudzu bob said...

Thursday, Southerners also make better novelists. A connection, perhaps?

josh said...

A)The autobio of Chesty Puller,the legendary Marine infantry guy,described at length his background of hunting as a kid. And I do believe he wrote it himself! B)They dropped it because WOMEN didnt do as well?!!?!?!? I just think of all those ugly hatchet faced female soldiers...so full of theselves. Thats sickening;the corruption of just about everything by the filthy lies of PC. (So,Truth,that may be one reason why some guys get so sgitated about diversity bullshit!)

dearieme said...

One of the bomb disposal pioneers in WWII ended up as a professor at Cambridge.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Victor_Danckwerts

Anonymous said...

It is hardly a secret that Southerners and Westerners typically make better soldiers than do other Americans. That is part of the reason why.

Or you could just be dealing with a self-selecting statistic.

I mean - it's no big secret as to the ethnicity of guys like Andrew Jackson, Stonewall Jackson, Arthur MacArthur, Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, etc etc etc.

Hell, even ol' McAmnesty himself hails from the same background [and his grandfather was a legitimate war hero].

Anonymous said...

One cohort group has been omitted from this study - those who were smart, observant and qualified for EOD work, but were smart and observant enough to either decline or avoid it in the first place.

While this might be seen as cowardly or unpatriotic, they've got the top level of survival skills going -- a bomb that's a thousand miles away is unlikely to kill you -- though you may have to look outside the military (for the same reasons) to find them.

Lost Pilgrim said...

Our area has many kids joining the Marines. The recruiters from other branches barely even make an appearance any more. We are a very rural town in the middle of a dense forest.

Our boys are brought up hunting, fishing, and playing sports. Most of our boys go to work in the woods or in the mills at an early age where you need to keep your wits about you. My son said that his basketball coach was harder on him in some ways than his drill sergeants.

Anonymous said...

"That's an aspect that's very, very critical. You're invited into EOD [Explosive Ordinance Disposal] because you've scored on an aptitude test at a very high level. You're definitely a rare kind of individual. And to amplify what you're saying, you have to take into consideration that this is a volunteer military. So these are individuals who have an extremely high IQ and have chosen - after being invited into EOD - to take on the most dangerous job in the world."

You can spin it any way you want, but that's a job for dummies. You don't need to go to Cornell like I did to see that.

rob said...

Cool study. Could be nurture affecting a real, important cognitive ability. Could be interaction: people, even as children choosing environments that appeal to them.

I wonder if "urban" is just a euphemism for NAM or if NAMs from the 'burbs are also bad at situational awareness.

anony-mouse said...

The people who are directing the UAV's (which I still say will be the future of warfare) are essentially working a video game console (albeit one with rather more lifelike effects).

Too bad for the hunters.

Anonymous said...

This is all very old knowledge, as demonstrated in this documentary:

General Dodonna: Well, the Empire doesn't consider a small one-man fighter to be any threat, or they'd have a tighter defense. An analysis of the plans provided by Princess Leia has demonstrated a weakness in the battle station. But the approach will not be easy. You are required to maneuver straight down this trench and skim the surface to this point. The target area is only two meters wide. It's a small thermal exhaust port, right below the main port. The shaft leads directly to the reactor system. A precise hit will start a chain reaction which should destroy the station. Only a precise hit will set off a chain reaction. The shaft is ray-shielded, so you'll have to use proton torpedoes.

Wedge Antilles (Red 2): That's impossible! Even for a computer.

Luke: It's not impossible. I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home, they're not much bigger than two meters.

General Dodonna: Then man your ships. And may the Force be with you.

Anonymous said...

BTW, during a lecture on validity in a statistics course, the professor discussed a military study that found a statistically significant association between men who rode motorcycles, and ability to pilot fighter jets.

Of course, Maverick rode a motorcycle in Top Gun, and I wonder if there was an intentional aspect to that in terms of the association noted above, rather than just his character being portrayed as a rebel...

Truth said...

"It is hardly a secret that Southerners and Westerners typically make better soldiers than do other Americans. That is part of the reason why."

Could the other part be that they make better "yes-men"?

Truth said...

"It's no wonder that no matter how many books or films Ken Burns may have read or watched, his intellect cannot see beyond the perimeters of political correctness and white boy blandness nurtured into him by suburban/academic/gentrified yuppie life."

Ken Burns was raised in Brooklyn in the 1950s and his formal education ended with a Bachelors Degree.

Richard Hoste said...

Are these high IQ guys doing this because they really believe in the cause or because the compensation is off the charts?

Anonymous said...

I know one EOD guy, and he's certainly smart as a whip. His parents are both lawyers. His dad is a former county GOP chairman and his grandfather is a former state representative and also a lawyer.

anony-mouse said...

Another type of good situational awareness with military applications:

forward.com/articles/117886/

Canadian Cincinnatus said...

I guess the British Army of 100 years ago had it right when they had a policy that any time taken off by their officers to go hunting did not count as annual leave. Hunting, it was felt at the time, was just a generally good thing for officers do.

simon said...

Truth:
"Could the other part be that they make better "yes-men"?"

That seems like the opposite of the truth.

Svigor said...

No, it means they'll trend that way (odds are they'll be closer to their inherited group means than to their parental means; it's possible they'll be smarter than their parents). Sorry I can't be more specific but math isn't my strong suit.

I told you math wasn't my strong suit; what I meant to write was, odds are they'll be trend toward their group means, not that they'll be closer to their group means than their parental means.

kudzu bob said...

Could the other part be that they make better "yes-men"?

No, but we do turn out some outstanding hell-no men, Twoof.

David said...

Probably most of us here try to stay away from bombs. Guess that makes us stupid, or cowardly. Then again, I have all my fingers, both eyes, and all my hands and feet.

Caligula said...

Another interesting hypothesis is if ADHD makes one a better hunter. I know anecdotal evidence must be taken in skeptically, but I've personally observed that my friends diagnosed with severe ADHD are extremely good at hunting and fishing.

I remember Cochran and Harpending discussing this in the 10,000 Year explosion that ADHD may be due to hunter-gatherer traits that do not necessarily fit into an agricultural/industrial society.

David Davenport said...

Then again, I have all my fingers, both eyes, and all my hands and feet.

How about your gonads?

Truth said...

"No, but we do turn out some outstanding hell-no men, Twoof."

Now Bobby;

Wasn't it actually 4 years of "hell-no" followed by 144 years of "yessir...right away sir!"

Guuuufaaawwwwwww!

Truth said...

By the way Bobby, you and Sviggey are both southerners, but judging from his posts,he prefers to fly
This flag

Truth said...

Davenport, I was going to make EXACTLY that comment but something told me that I had exceeded my snark allotment on this thread.

Difference Maker said...

I've personally observed that my friends diagnosed with severe ADHD are extremely good at hunting and fishing.

I remember Cochran and Harpending discussing this in the 10,000 Year explosion that ADHD may be due to hunter-gatherer traits that do not necessarily fit into an agricultural/industrial society.


This is interesting. ADHD is certainly detrimental to social and financial function.

Hunting, it was felt at the time, was just a generally good thing for officers do.

Hunting is always a good thing for officers and soldiers to do. As many who play first person shooters undoubtedly know, successfully stalking your prey, the hunting of man, is one of the great assets and thrills of victory.

I will confidently say those who've seen combat will know. But that is too much a tautology.

Some people have more natural situational awareness than others. But one can improve through practice.

I was stalking cats quite successfully as a child, where my friends were all failures or never had the inclination. I kick ass at taking advantage of chaotic situations in FPSes. But enough about me

The people who are directing the UAV's (which I still say will be the future of warfare) are essentially working a video game console (albeit one with rather more lifelike effects).

Too bad for the hunters.


But the UAVers still won't get the girls. ;)

Anonymous said...

this is the best example of urban ambush reflexes:

http://failblog.org/2009/10/30/epic-fail-friday-rewind-scare-fail/

Nine-of-Diamonds said...

"No, but we do turn out some outstanding hell-no men, Twoof."

Now Bobby;

Wasn't it actually 4 years of "hell-no" followed by 144 years of "yessir...right away sir!"

Wow. I thought throof drooling over some blonde goddess was the height of comedy. Never count him out, I tell ya!

Anyway - The South defeated superior forces throughout the conventional phase of the war, outlasted the North during Reconstruction, and had a free hand to deal with Blacks as it pleased up until the late 1960's. See "Slavery by Another Name", or any number of other recent books describing blacks' condition after they'd been "freed". Plus, throw in the romanticization of the Southern lost cause ("Gone with the Wind", "The Clansman", "Birth of a Nation") and similar stories - appealing to white Southerners AND Northerners alike. Good to know the Twoofers call victory in post-1865 insurgent warfare, plus an unqualified cultural victory in academia AND pop culture until very recently, a defeat. Not even WEB DuBois was that blinkered - after all, why the need for post-Civil War black activism if "Honest Abe" was such a success?

And yet the highbrows at my "school" saw fit to have a special Lincoln Day in the winter of '09, where they honored his "freeing the slaves" with speeches, banners badly-drawn portraits - the works. Plus copious analogies linking the Great Emancipator to the Mulatto Messiah.

Anonymous said...

Anony-mous - The people who are directing the UAV's (which I still say will be the future of warfare) are essentially working a video game console (albeit one with rather more lifelike effects).

I think that future is still a long way off - if ever. In the end victory comes down to boots on the ground in some form.

Truth said...

"Wow. I thought throof drooling over some blonde goddess was the height of comedy"

Who in the hell was that?

Anyway to sum your long, overblown treatise on U.S history up in three words:

The south lost.

Anonymous said...

In Israel, the military reserves tracker positions for Bedouin, although apparently they now have an Ethiopian unit:

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1124907.html

Nine-of-Diamonds said...

The South lost so bad you couldn't refute a single point - just whine that it's "overblown" & scurry away.

A simple question for a simple negro: Do you think the Freedmen & their white allies felt like victors circa 1880-1890? Why or why not?

Oh, and you know who that blonde is, you [poorly] closeted white fetishist. Eats you up, eh? Feigned sexual ignorance + feigned historical illiteracy = WIN!