Engaging in Tough Situations: The Science of Prosocial Behavior
By Kaitlin McClimon, Army Resilience Directorate; and Dr. Coleen Crouch, Walter Reed Army Institute of ResearchAugust 26, 2020
Engage Training Cutlines.pdf [PDF - 305.3 KB]Prosocial behaviors are the voluntary actions we take to help others with no expected benefit for ourselves. Actions can be seemingly insignificant such as correcting a buddy’s uniform infraction or particularly courageous like the passengers and crew who thwarted the terrorist hijacking of Flight 93 on 9/11. In many cases, we don’t hesitate to help someone when it is obvious they need help, but what does it take to intervene in more ambiguous situations? Can we be trained to act more prosocially? The Army Resilience Directorate has developed “Engage” based on research suggesting that individuals can be trained to identify and act when intervention can improve an outcome.Engage is a two-hour training that targets enhancing prosocial behavior. Army team members are encouraged to develop the skills to intervene early and effectively when we see something happening that could have adverse effects. Understanding what prompts us to act can help increase the likelihood that we will do something to change the trajectory of a situation. Ultimately, for us to act in these often subtle or challenging situations, research suggests that we must traverse three main decision points:1. Am I aware of alerts?2. Do I feel responsible?3. Do I have a plan of action?If we do not respond affirmatively to all three decision points, we will fail to engage.ARD requested that the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) conduct a longitudinal evaluation of Engage to determine the long-term effectiveness for increasing prosocial behaviors associated with bystander intervention. In partnership with WRAIR, R2 Performance Experts at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), Wash., delivered multiple Engage and vignette instruction sessions in October 2019.The evaluation occurred with 16 companies from a variety of units at JBLM. The companies were randomly assigned to either receive Engage (i.e., experimental group) or to receive no bystander intervention training (i.e., control group). Soldiers from the experimental and control groups were given a baseline survey in October 2019, a follow-up survey three months later in February 2020, and another survey nine months later in August 2020 to assess changes in knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors over time. Because of COVID-19, the six-month follow-up survey was canceled.In the units that were selected to receive Engage, platoon leadership was tasked with leading monthly discussions using vignettes detailing scenarios in which Soldiers would be expected to intervene. These vignettes allowed for discussion among Soldiers to identify alerts, take responsibility and develop plans of action. Unit participation in these monthly vignettes was requested by researchers to ensure compliance. Data from this evaluation is currently being analyzed, but preliminary results show favorable responses to the training.Knowing how to respond in situations with potential negative outcomes can be challenging. Engage may help Soldiers become more aware of alerts as to when intervention could change the trajectory of a situation, recognize a responsibility to act, and have a plan to intervene in the situation. Choosing to engage may make all the difference in a Soldier's life; ultimately, it is these consistent choices to engage with Soldiers around us that will shift the Army culture.