Dissertation Defense: Kelsey Larsen
Candidate Name: Kelsey Larsen
Advisor: George Shambaugh, Ph.D.
Title: Warfare’s Wiring: Nervous System Responses to Combat Service and the Policy Preferences of Combat Veterans
Americans prize military service, particularly combat service, in their political decision-makers. Indeed, combat service is supposed to create a colloquial 'band of brothers' among veterans—a homogeneous group expected to be changed by their experience in a consistent and positive way, such that their views on the conduct of foreign policy are trusted and revered. At the same time, Americans are increasingly aware of the mental health challenges that can accompany combat service; they often treat the ‘everyday’ combat veteran with a mix of sympathy and skepticism, as a group expected to be changed by their experience in a consistent and negative way, such that their decision-making and behavior are warily viewed. How is it that these two disparate narratives about the fundamentally same population perpetuate? This dissertation seeks to reconcile this enormous gap that exists in our understanding of how combat actually impacts political preferences, offering the first comprehensive integration of bodies of literature on military socialization, the human stress response, and political decision-making. Using a plausibility probe design, it constructs the first ever theory of combat-related autonomic nervous system dysregulation and political decision-making, exploring how war-related shifts in the mind, brain, and body—more than prior preferences, party affiliation, or issue familiarity—may underpin the future foreign policy preferences of combat veterans. It then pilot tests this theory in three separate studies, including an original survey of combat veterans, a broad-based comparative survey of veterans and civilians, and a time-series analysis of veterans in Congress. The findings both confirm and challenge the theory’s central insights, and suggest a long future research program in the analysis of trauma and political behavior. After all, as the number of combat veterans entering the political sphere increases, understanding such a trend may be the key to predicting and selecting the future foreign policy of the United States.
Tuesday, December 19, 2017 at 2:00pm to 4:00pm
Edward B. Bunn, S.J. Intercultural Center, 450
37th and O St., N.W., Washington