Of men and minds

Published : Nov 20, 2009 00:00 IST

The cockpit simulator developed by the DIPR for its computerised pilot selection system.-R.V. MOORTHY

The cockpit simulator developed by the DIPR for its computerised pilot selection system.-R.V. MOORTHY

TOMORROWS war will be a war of minds, says Manas K. Mandal, Director, Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR), New Delhi, a premier institute of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). So the importance of our laboratory has gone up. The range of activities we do with a small band of people is enormous. The DIPR, according to its Director, has the largest number of psychologists under one umbrella. Its staff includes 45 psychologists, 30 scientists and six officers belonging to the services. They psychologically fortify soldiers to face low-intensity conflicts, devise tests for the selection of officers of the armed forces, test the aptitude of those aspiring to be sharpshooters or drivers of battle tanks, carry out personality profiling of National Security Guard (NSG) commandos and conduct mass counselling for victims of natural disasters. Mandal himself is a reputed psychologist who was a professor of psychology at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur before taking over as Director of the DIPR in January 2004. A Fulbright Fellow, he was a researcher in cognition and experimental neuropsychology, and a Fulbright lecturer at Harvard University.

The DIPR began in 1943 as an experimental board in Dehradun to select officers for the armed forces. After Independence, when the armed forces were reorganised, a need was felt to establish a dedicated research cell that would look into not only the scientific aspects of officer selection but also the psychological requirements. So in 1949, the experimental board, renamed the Psychological Research Wing, was mandated to devise tests to probe the intelligence and persona of those aspiring to become officers in the services, to follow up on candidates during training, and to assess on-job performance. In 1962, the Psychological Research Wing was redesignated Directorate of Psychological Research (DPR) to carry out research on soldiers morale, ideological convictions, job satisfaction, behaviour in high-altitude tests, civil-military relationship, and so on.

In 1982, the DPR was renamed the DIPR. Since then, it has emerged as a centre of importance in military psychology, dealing with research activities pertaining to personnel selection, placement and trade allocation, said Mandal. However, what makes the DIPRs job difficult is that Indias armed forces are man-intensive. Besides, this job cannot be outsourced, Mandal noted. Over a period of time, the DIPR has standardised a battery of tests to assess the intelligence and personality of those wanting to become officers and to allocate a trade to them. These tests are validated constantly. The DIPR interacts with the headquarters of the Army, the Navy and the Indian Air Force and with the 15 service selection boards and the Air Force selection boards, providing them with psychological inputs in the selection of officers and personnel.

Arunima Gupta, scientist, DIPR, said, There is no hire and fire in the armed forces. So the right kind of selection is crucial.

According to Arunima Gupta, the DIPR assists soldiers to cope with extreme conditions such as the icy winds of high-altitude Siachen, the heat waves of Rajasthan and the confined atmosphere of submarines. It prepares soldiers to face qualitatively different situations in non-conventional warfare. Psychologically training people to fight at high altitudes and in low-intensity conflict areas is not a joke, said Mandal.

Low-intensity conflicts pose special challenges to soldiers. It is not clear who the enemy is. It is not a declared war. The DIPR has to look into all this and how to match the human resources with these situations, said Arunima Gupta. The main thing in such situations is maintaining the morale of soldiers. We give psychological inputs to young commanders and soldiers and tell them to be on the lookout for warning signals [of aberrant behaviour] and how to manage a crisis, she said. They are trained to manage combat-related stress.

K. Ramachandran, Additional Director, DIPR, said the DIPR takes the help of priests in temples attached to Army cantonments or camps to counsel stressed-out soldiers. We have trained them to play the role of counsellors for soldiers under stress, he said.

During times of mass trauma, the DIPRs experts play a critical role. Mandal said: When there is a bomb blast, 10 persons may die, but hundreds around are traumatised. In such situations, groups of DIPR psychologists visit the injured persons or the families of the victims of mass trauma, speak to them, get to know their problems and counsel them. We take care of their psychological problems while the DRDOs doctors take care of the victims medical problems, said Ramachandran. Psychologists of the DIPR made repeated visits to Latur in Maharashtra after the earthquake in September 1993, to Orissa after the super cyclone of October 1999 and to Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu after the tsunami in December 2004 and counselled hundreds of traumatised people. For soldiers posted in the icy expanse of Siachen, our role is to help them adapt quickly, said Ramachandran. For those who are on the threshold of breaking down, we provide stress inoculation courses the mental stubbornness that is needed during their stay in Siachen.

The DIPR has devised a computerised pilot selection system (CPSS). As a booklet on it points out, a fighter pilot in addition to having flying skills should be a systems manager. The CPSS evaluates qualities such as psychomotor and information-processing skills and the candidates ability to perform multiple tasks simultaneously. It entails 12 tests to assess psychomotor skills and nine cognitive tests.

The main controller unit, that is, the Black Box, for the CPSS was developed by the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), Bangalore, and the DIPR. The Black Box is a kind of password because the tests cannot be run without it. The tests are backed by 20 years of research and development of DIPR scientists. The simulator on which the CPSS is run received the Agni award in 2005 from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for self-reliance in technology.

The DIPR has a number of publications to its credit. Its psychologists and scientists have brought out manuals such as Stress and its Management, Deceit Detection and Interrogation, Suicide and Fratricide: Dynamics and Management: A Field Manual for Officers, Managing Emotions in Daily Life and at Workplace, Propaganda Field Manual for Armed Forces, and Overcoming Obsolescence and Becoming Creative in R&D Environment.

Said Mandal: We began our journey with a selection system in 1943. We have now spread our wings.

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