Assessing Civilian Perceptions of Combat Veterans: An IAT Study

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Objective: Evidence suggests that civilians may have considerable ambivalence to returning veterans. While civilians are frequently grateful for the service of military personnel, they can often be wary of the mental health and stability of returning veterans. If civilians do hold such negative biases toward veterans, whether implicit or explicit, this may have a significant impact on the ability of military personnel to integrate back into society. The goal of the study was to test whether participants held an implicit bias of mental instability toward veterans. Method: In this study, 48 participants took an adapted version of the Implicit Association Test (IAT; Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998). Pictures of veterans and civilians were paired with words that either reflected mental stability (safe, sane, reliable, responsible) or instability (crazy, dangerous, unstable, unpredictable). Results: The results demonstrated a finding of moderate effect size for an association between veterans and instability. Participants had significantly shorter response times (RTs) for IAT blocks in which veteran pictures and negative words were paired. Conclusions: This is the first study in the literature to demonstrate implicit biases of veterans as unstable. If implicit biases do in fact exist, the reintegration issues that veterans face may be due, at least in part, to a negative bias they face upon their return.

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