Combat experience and emotional health: impairment and resilience in later life

J Pers. 1989 Jun;57(2):311-41. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.1989.tb00485.x.


War's influence on emotional health includes potential psychological gains as well as losses. In a sample of 149 veterans from longitudinal samples at the Institute of Human Development, University of California, Berkeley, this study explores two questions on the legacy of combat in World War II and the Korean conflict. The first concerns the subjective experience or meanings of combat that veterans hold in later life, with particular attention to how such accounts are linked to the severity of combat and postwar adaptations. The second question links these accounts to the psychosocial functioning of veterans before the war and in later life using reports from veterans and their spouses and Q-sort ratings in adolescence and at age 40. Findings center on veterans of heavy combat. Compared to the noncombatants and light combat veterans, these men were at greater risk of emotional and behavioral problems in the postwar years. In mid-life, they hold mixed memories of painful losses and life benefits associated with military experience. Clinical ratings show that heavy combat veterans became more resilient and less helpless over time when compared to other men. As in the case of life events generally, short- and long-term effects may impair and enhance personal growth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Assertiveness
  • Ego
  • Human Development*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Memory
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Veterans / psychology*
  • Warfare*