Academics research character development at USMA

Story and photo by Michelle Schneider PV Staff Writer

October 17th, 2019 | News, News and Features
A Celebration of West Point Authors was held at the Haig Room in Jefferson Hall Library and Learning Center Oct. 8 at the U.S. Military Academy. This biannual event brings awareness to research currently taking place at the academy.

A Celebration of West Point Authors was held at the Haig Room in Jefferson Hall Library and Learning Center Oct. 8 at the U.S. Military Academy. This biannual event brings awareness to research currently taking place at the academy.
Associate Dean Chris Barth shared that some instructors are currently working on research aligned with West Point senior leadership’s interest in developing character within cadets.
“This event falls in with the superintendent’s priority of character and character development and we’ve invited faculty to discuss their research into some of these topics that we are working through at the academy,” Barth said. “We want to show ourselves as leaders not only in developing leaders of character but understanding what that means and the best way to get there.”
The guest speakers at A Celebration of West Point Authors shared information about their research to present different angles and perspectives of the topic.
Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership professor Dr. Michael Matthews represented nine other researchers in a collaborative, five-year longitudinal study that spans across other colleges called, “Character in Context: Character Structure among United States Military Academy Cadets.”
This ongoing, collaborative research is being conducted to understand character attributes of cadets alongside dysfunctional qualities. Part of their extensive research involves an analysis of 250 questions to measure personality traits such as bravery, empathy, leadership, commitment, integrity and honor.
They also identify negative traits like the Machiavellian personality type which is assessed by answering a strong yes to questions such as, “I am willing to be unethical if it helps me to succeed” or “I want to be rich and powerful someday.” The higher someone identifies with this trait, the less they are committed to West Point and becoming an honorable leader.
The purpose of this study is to understand how this behavior affects interpersonal relationships and whether negative personalities are attracted to the military or built within the institution. They are also researching how certain positive traits play a key role in successful leadership.
USMA’s mission regarding character growth is to promote a culture of dignity, respect and inclusivity as well as create an environment where cadets feel safe and can trust one another. One issue being addressed that hinders this progress is sexual assault and harassment.
Dr. Marjorie H. Carrol and Dr. Lisa M. Korenman from BS&L presented an overview of their research, “Comparison of Male and Female Rape Myth Scripts.” Their study offers an in-depth look surrounding many facets of rape which gives them the insight needed to improve West Point’s culture.
Their research discovered that rape rarely occurs by a stranger, alcohol is a common theme in reported incidences and they discussed the topic of male victimization by female coercion. They also identified pre-existing biases surrounding this topic to correct how cadets view rape.
Based on the results of their research, the emotional and psychological issues surrounding people who do not report a rape incident were revealed. The academy can further develop, based on the research results, other reporting climates that eliminate the embarrassment, fear and shame victims often experience when coming forward.
Where building character is concerned, utmost professionalism and dedication to the traditions of West Point’s military heritage and how cadets apply it toward their future leadership is another focus. Dr. Eric Lin from BS&L represented his colleague Col. Todd Woodruff regarding their collaborative work, “Research on Peers Correcting Peers.”
The study is a work in progress and aims to find how and when people speak up regarding three forms of violations: standards, honor and respect. A few examples of reportable incidents that fall under these violation categories include uniform regulations not being met and stealing. They asked cadets whether they reported it and why or why they did not.
The purpose of the study was to observe cultural dynamics of teams and the relationship between people who should be reported but get away with certain violations. The researchers revealed it was due to the social risks that may come with reporting such as being ostracized.
Other findings show that cadets who are more loyal to their teams than West Point are not likely to report team members who are not maintaining the institutions’s standards.
So far, their work has revealed that the more cadets believe in the culture West Point represents, the more negative behaviors will be reported.
One area of focus moving forward will be eliminating the social costs involved with reporting violations so that everyone can improve and benefit from high-organizational involvement.
In the past, A Celebration of West Point Authors hosted guest speakers conducting research on issues surrounding command-level concerns within the academy as well as current topics of interest across the military. Currently, West Point leadership is focused on topics that help cadets grow into honorable members of the Army who are brave enough to speak up to benefit themselves and others.
“We want to celebrate and note that West Point is a producer of scholarship and research. Our faculty is doing amazing work to expand their fields, and I think this event has been a good opportunity for us at the academy to recognize that effort,” Barth said.