Will Neuroscience Help the Army Create the Ultimate Soldier?

By Melissa Lafsky | May 21, 2009 1:45 pm

marinesNew Scientist is reporting that a paper by the U.S. National Academies of Science has thrown out the possibility of using genetic testing and analysis to match soldiers with specific duties/specialties, and monitor their brains for signs of stress or weakness. For instance:

If a soldier is struggling, a digital “buddy” might step in and warn them about nearby threats, or advise comrades to zap them with an electromagnet to increase their alertness. If the whole unit is falling apart, biosensors could warn central commanders to send in a replacement team….

Sponsored by the U.S. army and written by a panel of 14 prominent neuroscientists, the report focuses on those areas with “high-payoff potential” – where the science is sufficiently reliable to turn into useful technologies….

Within five years, biomarkers might be used to assess how well a soldier’s brain is functioning, and within 10 years, it should be possible to predict how individuals are likely to respond to environmental stresses like extreme heat and cold, or endurance exercises.

There’s also the matter of matching people to combat specialties based on a combo of psych and genetics tests:

“We might say that given this person’s high levels of brain serotonin, they’re going to be calmer under pressure, so they might make a good sniper,” says Paul Zak of Claremont Graduate University in California, who was on the NAS panel.

Sure, relying too much on genetics could result in harm on both ends, with potentially exemplary soldiers being denied a chance to serve based on theoretical tests. But it’s hard to argue that we shouldn’t use neuroscience to do things like determine which soldiers are experiencing extreme emotional stress.

Of course, whether military top brass will use genetic testing to determine other things remains to be seen.

Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: What’s Inside Your Brain?
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