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Study finds recruiting methods made worse soldiers

Cadets enter the stadium at West Point for the graduation ceremony at the U.S. Military Academy on May 28, 2014, in West Point, New York.
Cadets enter the stadium at West Point for the graduation ceremony at the U.S. Military Academy on May 28, 2014, in West Point, New York.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The additional benefits of service in the United States Armed Forces like education and other perks that have been the mainstay of military recruiting has produced more recruits but less motivated soldiers according to new research. Amy Wrzesniewski and colleagues from Yale University School of Management reached this conclusion after 10 years of research. The study was published in the June 30, 2014, edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study followed the military careers of 10,238 West Point cadets from 1997 to 2006. The researchers evaluated each cadet by survey and personal interviews concerning their motivation to enlist, the cadet’s continuation of service after the five-year mandatory service period, and the cadet’s success in early promotion during their five-year mandatory service period. The time frame covered the beginnings of the wars in Iran and Afghanistan.

The researchers found that extra incentives served to reduce the commitment of a given individual to a career in the armed forces. Additional incentives that were an external motivation did not increase retention of recruits in the military. Personal motivation of itself and by itself was the most prominent variable in a cadet’s choice to remain in the military.

This is the first long-term study of a “captive” human population that indicates no motivation is as successful as personal motivation to achieve a predetermined objective. The researchers suggest that their findings are applicable to both educational institutions and the workplace. Additional motivation in education or the workplace other than excellence for personal achievement is seen to be irrelevant to producing high-achieving people.

The study shows that the motivation to remain in the military actually increased when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were announced. The loss of cadets to the military peaked before the war in Iraq began in earnest in 2003. The study is not designed to criticize the military or the people that serve in the military. The study does point out that recruiting with additional motivation other than being a member of the military has proven counterproductive.