Spotlight on History

Profiles in military psychology: Meredith P. Crawford

Meredith P. Crawford was the founder and effective leader of one of the most important research organizations in the history of military psychology.

By Peter F. Ramsberger, PhD

In this issue of the Spotlight on History, we have the second profile of an important military psychologist from our history. What follows is Peter Ramsberger's wonderful profile of Meredith Crawford, the founder of the Human Resources Research Organization and one of the most important figures in military psychology history. Although Meredith did not do much bench research himself, he was, as you will see in Peter's article, most knowledgeable about military psychology research and the founder and effective leader of one of the most important research organizations in the history of military psychology. Like so many of the leaders in military psychology, Meredith also served as president of Div. 19.

— Paul A. Gade, PhD, Editor, Spotlight on History


Meredith P. CrawfordIn January 1949, Army Special Regulation 70-30-1, entitled “Research in Human Resources and Military Psychology,” was released. It specified the various activities that would be placed under this regulation and the departments and agencies that were responsible for each. This was followed by two studies conducted by the Human Resources Section, Research Branch, Research and Development Division, Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-4, which examined the state of human resources and psychological work in the Army and concluded that “the research program of the Department of the Army in the field of human resources suffers because of an absence of a single centralized place of responsibility for General Staff planning and direction. Glaring deficiencies exist in the field of training, intelligence operations, and psychological warfare” (Department of the Army, 1950). Other reasons cited for this situation included the fact that the budgeted research funds for such activities were split unevenly among the Army, Navy, and Air Force in a ratio of 20:40:40. Another staff study, produced in May 1951, included the recommendation that “a major contract be awarded to a recognized educational institution to provide for the formation of an Army Human Resources Research Office, which would have primary responsibility for conducting research in the areas of training methods, motivation and morale, and psychological warfare” (Department of the Army, 1951). A key player in all of these developments was Harry F. Harlow, who was the chief of the Human Resources Research Office that produced the reports.

At that time, some 600 miles away, Meredith P. Crawford was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Vanderbilt University. It was a homecoming for him, as he attended school in Nashville in his youth while his father served on the faculty of George Peabody College. He himself attended Vanderbilt, where he received a bachelor's degree in chemistry with a minor in mathematics. His intention was to continue in medical school, but his father convinced him to take some time to travel. He ended up in New York, where he apparently could not ignore the desire for more education, obtaining a master's degree in psychology in 1932 and a doctorate in comparative psychology in 1935, both from Columbia University. Dr. Crawford's first professional position was as a staff member at the Yale Laboratories of Primate Biology, where he worked with such notables as Clark Hull and Robert Yerkes. In 1939, Dr. Crawford moved to New York with family in tow, and took a one-year teaching position at Barnard College. A year later it was on to Nashville, where he joined the faculty of his alma mater. During the war, he took a leave of absence from the school and served as an officer in the Army Aviation Psychology Program in San Antonio, Texas, overseeing test construction and administration. Toward the end of his Army service, Lieutenant Colonel Crawford was assigned as the chief of the psychology program with the Continental Air Force in Washington, D.C. Following the war, he returned to Vanderbilt.

The Early Days at HumRRO

It was Harry Harlow who recruited Dr. Crawford to assume the position of the director of the new Human Resources Research Office (HumRRO) of the Department of the Army. A contract was signed to create the organization within the George Washington University on July 31, 1951, and Dr. Crawford assumed the directorship 2 days later. He was joined in the weeks that followed by John Finan of Oberlin College, Launor Cantor of the University of Rochester, and Henry Schroeder, who was named assistant director.

There were a multitude of tasks to accomplish in the earliest days of HumRRO, and given the size of the existing staff, Dr. Crawford was heavily involved in every one. Office space on the university campus had to be located. A library of publications covering the pertinent work in the field had to be assembled. Financial and accounting mechanisms had to be established. And amidst all of this, HumRRO received its first assignment—to coordinate the behavioral science component of work being conducted by the Atomic Energy Commission and the Army Ordinance Corps related to nuclear tests in the deserts of Nevada. The primary goals of HumRRO's research were to assess the reactions of soldiers to witnessing such an explosion and the impact of “indoctrination” programs designed to educate them about the effects of nuclear weapons. Given the small number of HumRRO staff at the time, three other agencies were brought in to help with the research. Nonetheless, Dr. Crawford himself traveled to the desert in late October to be an observer and oversee HumRRO's portion of the efforts.

Another crucial element in getting HumRRO up and running was recruiting competent staff. Toward that end, in a matter of months Crawford and Harlow traveled to universities in Tennessee, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, California, and Washington. At each stop, they held discussions with faculty, made presentations about the new organization, and interviewed prospective employees. By December 1953, HumRRO staff included 112 civilian researchers and 108 administrative and clerical personnel. In addition, four Army officers and 18 enlisted personnel were assigned to the organization.

The intention in creating HumRRO was to centralize the Army's human resources research efforts so as to make them better coordinated and integrated. However, it is clear from early documentation that this was not immediately achieved. Therefore, a central focus of Dr. Crawford's attention, particularly in the early years, was establishing relations with other existing bodies that had an interest in this arena. These included the Operations Research Office and the Personnel Research Bureau. In addition, Dr. Crawford quickly moved to begin fulfilling one of HumRRO's mandates to set up field offices on various bases around the country so as to allow researchers to be truly hands-on in identifying issues and their solutions. Inevitably this led to concerns over turf, particularly with the Office of Chief of Army Field Forces. It seems clear that these issues were of high importance to Dr. Crawford, who spent much time in meetings and providing briefings in an attempt to more clearly delineate HumRRO's role and place within the Army research establishment. And it is undoubtedly the case that his calm demeanor and southern charm were instrumental in negotiating that course.

The Crawford Philosophy

An equally essential mandate was to ensure that those whom it was intended to benefit saw the value of HumRRO's work. In a speech to the Conference of Army Directors of Research in December 1953, Dr. Crawford proffered his philosophy in this regard:

I feel that if the area is considered very important to the Army, we should try it, even with some misgivings about our methodology; conversely, if we can get a clean-cut result on a problem of less importance without too great an expenditure, we should go ahead if we can get even lukewarm approval; if it is of real scientific consequence, has some implications for Army policy or practice, and the Army offers a unique population for study, we should make every effort to obtain approval, i.e., actively “sell” the study. (Crawford, 1953, p. 5)

He did not, however, take a completely utilitarian view of HumRRO's work. In that same address he took into account the “bigger picture” for the organization:

What has been said may seem to imply that I believe that HumRRO should always be bound in its research only to clear military requirements, and thus studies which have obvious immediate payoff. Were this our only type of activity over many years, I believe that we would not serve our full purpose, nor yield to the maximum benefit of research to the Army. We need to plan our research on a long-range basis. We must think of the development of the sciences we represent. We must continue to sharpen our methodological tools. However, while HumRRO is still new, I think that it is only sensible that we lay chief emphasis on immediate pay-off work. Planning for the future should be from a wide perspective of both scientific and military needs. As we become more accepted, I believe we will receive increasing approval for such work. (Crawford, 1953, p. 6)

His assessment of the progress that HumRRO was making in convincing a largely skeptical military establishment that behavioral scientists had anything worthwhile to offer was (at least overtly) positive after a year of operation. Dr. Crawford addressed members of APA's Division of Military Psychology in September 1952, and offered the following viewpoint:

 We have been very much impressed during our first year at HumRRO that Army officers are very much interested in having someone attack the problems with which they have been working. For example, what makes an effective combat infantryman? Officers not only recognize this as a key problem, but also have been uniformly cooperative and helpful to our research people. They are not necessarily convinced that we will get the answer, but they seem glad to have us work at it. (Crawford, 1952, p. 5)

He went on to stress the importance of how the work should be carried out in such an environment: “Relations with military personnel, as with any operating group as in industry, involve careful public relations to allay suspicions that researchers are inspectors.” He also recognized that part of his role was to be the bridge between the scientists working on the significant problems of the day and the operational personnel who wanted the problems solved yesterday. This entailed motivating his staff to employ the necessary rigor in their work, but to do so with dispatch. At the same time, Dr. Crawford often found he needed to be an educator, explaining to those who were anxious to find solutions to their issues the necessity of properly applying the scientific method to ensure that the resulting recommendations were based on objective evidence.

Having an Impact

The organization's first notable success came with a work unit called TrainFire, conducted at Human Resource Unit 3 at Fort Benning, Georgia. It was initiated when President Dwight Eisenhower received a letter from Howard C. Sarvis of New Meadows, Idaho, on June 25, 1953. Sarvis had some new ideas about “rifle shooting” that he shared with the president. His letter was referred to the chief of the Human Relations and Research Branch of the Army, who, in turn, sent it to HumRRO. On October 14 of that same year, Sarvis met with representatives of the Department of the Army and HumRRO to discuss his ideas. Subsequently, HumRRO was directed to study the issue in order to devise training methods that would more realistically simulate combat conditions and more thoroughly integrate marksmanship training into the overall basic training experience. The approach used in this endeavor included studying the conditions under which soldiers used their weapons in combat, developing training methods that would more closely approximate such conditions, devising measures to assess marksmanship ability, and evaluating the revamped training program using newly derived proficiency tests.

In examining the existing training program, HumRRO researchers concluded that there were several problems. Chief among them was the lack of realism inherent in the training, often the result of a greater concern for safety than the efficacy of the training itself. The major changes brought about as a result of this research included introducing moving targets created to resemble opposing forces, which appeared for brief intervals at varying locations. The position assumed during training was modified, with greater emphasis placed on firing while kneeling or standing as opposed to being prone. New aiming strategies were also introduced to correct common errors that resulted from the conventional methods. These innovations significantly improved trainees' ability to detect and hit targets, and as a result marksmanship training was substantially revised throughout the Army. The innovations were copied by law enforcement agencies throughout the country. In the end, TrainFire also provided Dr. Crawford a highly visible exemplar of what behavioral scientists could accomplish if given the time to properly do their work.

Over its 20-year exclusive (or near exclusive) relationship with the Army, HumRRO personnel tackled a vast array of training and training-related problems. New or revised instructional programs were developed for radio operators, civic advisors, personnel using night vision and chemical protection equipment, radar operators and mechanics, and vehicle maintenance personnel. Significant problems were studied, including forecasting future training demands, training personnel of different aptitude levels, and easing the adjustment of recruits to military life.

Through this experience and discussions with his colleagues, Dr. Crawford began to promulgate a systematic method for developing training programs, which became known within HumRRO as “the seven steps.” Essentially this was an early explication of what was to become the widely espoused Instructional Systems Development process. Dr. Crawford outlined the approach in various addresses over the years, and authored several articles about it, most notably a chapter in a 1962 volume edited by Robert Gagne entitled Psychological Principles in Systems Development (Crawford, 1962). The steps as outlined by Crawford involved (1) analyzing the situation or system of interest from a human factors point of view, (2) performing a job analysis, (3) specifying the knowledge and skills needed to perform the job, (4) setting training objectives, (5) constructing the training program, (6) developing proficiency measures, and (7) evaluating the training program. Although this process hardly seems revolutionary now, Dr. Crawford's early formalization of it was unquestionably a valuable contribution to the field.

Crawford's Leadership

Dr. Crawford is well represented in the HumRRO bibliography of publications that covers all of his 25 years with the organization. But few, if any, of the documents that bear his name are associated with specific research projects. Instead, most are general in nature (e.g., “Military Psychology and General Psychology”; Crawford, 1970b) or overviews of HumRRO work (e.g., HumRRO and Training Technology: An Introduction ; Crawford, 1970a). This suggests that in his role as HumRRO's director, Dr. Crawford was chiefly an administrator, motivator, and salesman. Nonetheless, he kept his finger tightly on the pulse of the organization and the work being accomplished. Bill Osborn, longtime HumRRO employee and past president, recalls a time when he was working in the Fort Knox office and Dr. Crawford was going to pay a visit. Osborn was asked to take part in a briefing and discuss a segment of a research and development project that he was leading. Being a relatively junior member of the staff at the time, he was understandably nervous about this prospect. The briefing went well, however, and Osborn was amazed at the breadth of Crawford's knowledge about the project. “He knew more about it than I did,” Osborn recounted.

Dr. Crawford's strong leadership of HumRRO through its formative stages in the early 1950s also was a stabilizing force during a turbulent time in the 1960s and 1970s. This began with HumRRO and George Washington University mutually agreeing to end their relationship. Dr. Crawford and his advisors had already been considering this move when students, especially members of the Students for a Democratic Society, increased their pressure on the university administration to cease contract work that involved the U.S. military. With the agreement to separate in place, on September 1, 1969, HumRRO (with the O now changed from “Office” to “Organization”) was incorporated as an independent, nonprofit research and development center with Meredith Crawford as its first president.

In 1971, HumRRO management, after reviewing the current and likely future status of sole-source contracts, decided to request an end to their exclusive relationship with the Army. The Army granted this request on July 1, 1972, and the final contract of this type ended 3 years later. This was a wrenching time for the organization, with significant staff reductions and the closing of research units on Army bases. Benefits and holidays were temporarily eliminated and workweeks reduced to 4 days. Throughout it all, Dr. Crawford was a calming influence providing detailed information to the staff on the reasons behind the actions taken, along with assurances and evidence that better days were ahead.

A Continuing Legacy

On March 30, 1976, Dr. Crawford retired from HumRRO. He had served as the head of the organization for 25 years—starting as its only employee, guiding its expansion to hundreds of staff members nationwide, and finally initiating the process of shepherding it toward the company that it is today. In a letter to staff on the eve of his retirement, Dr. Crawford wrote:

 I simply want to say to each of you: thank you, for your understanding and for your loyal support over the years. I have sincerely felt that it has been a privilege to serve as your Director, when we were part of the University and, more recently, as your President. Naturally, HumRRO has been a part of me. I have glowed in satisfaction with your individual and our corporate successes and groaned from our common oversights and shortcomings. My sincere greetings to each of you and best wishes for your own future within HumRRO or in other lines of endeavor as they may unfold over the years. (Crawford, 1976)

Dr. Crawford's association with HumRRO would continue through his service on the Board of Trustees from 1969 to 1990, and as chairman of the board from 1988 to 1990. Over his tenure with the organization and beyond, he served in a variety of professional capacities and was the recipient of many awards and honors. He was elected president of Div. 19 in 1965 and received the Division's Outstanding Scientific and Professional Contributions Award. He was also given the Army's Distinguished Civilian Service Medal in 1961 and received APA's award for Distinguished Professional Contributions in 1983.

In 1992, the HumRRO staff assembled a tribute to Dr. Crawford in the form of a compendium of photos and other memorabilia. The foreword states:

 Organizations tend to exhibit the traits of their creators. HumRRO, accordingly, acquired the standing of an earnest, competent, innovative, client-oriented enterprise of substantial integrity. To have been part of that culture was a source of considerable pride to the staff. Many are thankful that some of this organizational character has rubbed off on us.

Meredith Crawford passed away at the age of 91 on May 21, 2002.


Crawford, M. P. (1952). Statement for special program: Opportunities for psychological research for the armed services, APA Division of Military Psychology. Unpublished manuscript. Available in the Human Resources Research Organization Archives, Alexandria, VA.

Crawford, M. P. (1953). HumRRO review presented at the conference of research directors. Unpublished manuscript. Available in the Human Resources Research Organization Archives, Alexandria, VA.

Crawford, M. P. (1962). Concepts of training. In R. M. Gagne (Ed.), Psychological principles in systems development (pp. 301–341). New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Crawford, M. P. (1970a). HumRRO and training technology: An introduction (Professional Paper No. 21-70). Alexandria, VA: Human Resources Research Organization. 

Crawford, M. P. (1970b). Military psychology and general psychology. American Psychologist, 25, 328–336. doi:10.1037/h0029450

Crawford, M. P. (1976). [Letter to the HumRRO staff]. Available in the Human Resources Research Organization Archives, Alexandria, VA.

Department of the Army. (1950). Human resources research program within the Department of the Army: Staff study. Washington, DC: Department of the Army, Human Resources Research Section, Research Branch, Research and Development Division, Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-4.

Department of the Army. (1951). Responsibility for General Staff supervision of human resources research: Staff study. Washington, DC: Department of the Army, Human Resources Research Section, Research Branch, Research and Development Division, Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-4.

Peter F. Ramsberger is program manager of the Center for Personnel Policy Analysis, Human Resources Research Organization, in Alexandria, Virginia.