In this issue

Spotlight on History: Profile, Samuel A. Stouffer

A historical look at military assessment methodology.

By David Segal, PhD

Jessica Martin, Grant Shulman and I, the History Committee, are developing profiles of all of our past presidents. We can use more help in tracking down our living past presidents and helping them to write their profiles for us and for other projects. We also need pictures of our past presidents and people who can research and develop profiles for our past presidents who are no longer living.

Good news continues. We have yet another volunteer from the appeal in the last newsletter. She is Laura Bartos, a Navy ensign as well as a student, who has just joined our committee. I am finding that our students are a great resource for our committee, and I have great expectations for the future leadership of our society.

As always, I welcome new profiles of our important ancestors and other unsolicited history topics. Please feel free to send me your ideas for articles for this column. Several interesting articles have resulted from such unsolicited proposals. For example, Tim Hoyt's spotlight article on behavioral health technicians in last fall's newsletter was just such an unsolicited article.

In this edition of “Spotlight on History,” we are most fortunate to have a very nicely done profile of Sam Stouffer, PhD, author of “The American Soldier” studies during and after World War II, by David Segal. PhD. As most of our members know, Segal is a member of our society and a prominent military sociologist. Like Segal, Stouffer was a sociologist rather than a psychologist who had a tremendous influence on the field of psychology and military psychology in particular. Much of what we know about soldiers in combat and afterward comes from Stouffer's work on attitude measurement in surveys.

—Paul A. Gade, Editor

Samuel StoufferSamuel Stouffer's name is not familiar to most contemporary social scientists, but the research program that he organized and directed for the U.S. Army in World War II changed the trajectory of military psychology and served as the foundation of American military sociology. Behavioral science research in the U.S. Army in the early 20th century was focused on aptitudes and morals. The former, concerned with decisions about which men to bring into the Army and to what jobs they should be assigned, was addressed by applying psychometric knowledge to the development of selection and classification tests. Military behavioral science has remained at the forefront of this field. The latter, concerned with alcohol, prostitution, and sexually transmitted disease, was initially addressed with religious, athletic, and musical programs. Although Col. E.L. Munson, as head of the Morale Section of the War Department's Training and Instruction Branch in World War I, argued for a more quantitative and scientific approach to morale issues, movement in this direction was resisted by senior leaders in the Army. However, this changed slowly over time, and by the early 1940s the Morale Section had evolved into the War Department's Research Branch, with Col. Munson's son, E.L. Munson, Jr., as one of its military leaders.

Changes within the Army, and more broadly in American society, moved the field in the direction that Col. Munson had charted. Starting late in World War I, there was increased awareness within the Army of strains between enlisted personnel and officers, leading to recognized decreases in morale, and of the relationship between morale and military performance. There were also strains between Regular Army and National Guard personnel, and the latter were to become increasingly important as American involvement in World War II became more likely. In civilian society, the study of industrial organization was growing in psychology and sociology, contributing advances in social surveys and a body of knowledge on management and morale consistent with Munson's views. This was particularly true with regard to approaches to leadership and recognition that service-wide programs might be necessary in this area.

In 1941, the War Department reestablished a Morale Division, which evolved into the Information and Education Division of the U.S. Army Service Forces. One of its four branches was to be the Research Branch, the studies of which were to guide the Information, Education, and Orientation branches. In the summer of 1941, Frederick H. Osborne, chief of the Information and Education Division, persuaded the nongovernmental Social Science Research Council (SSRC), which had been established with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, to sponsor a trip to Washington D.C. by Samuel A. Stouffer (Ryan, 2013). Stouffer was a University of Chicago sociology professor and an expert in survey research and statistics. Thus, the birth of the research branch was funded by soft money. In that era it was common for nongovernmental and philanthropic organizations to sponsor social research. Osborne had the ears of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, and these ties were influential in the acceptance of the new program.

During Stouffer's trip to Washington, D.C., Osborne arranged for him to be appointed as a consultant to Secretary of War Stimson, who was no fan of survey research. As chair of the Joint Army Navy Committee on Welfare and Recreation, Osborne also invited Stouffer to serve on a subcommittee that would advise the Army on psychological factors affecting morale. Thus began the planning process for the Research Branch. Osborne and Stouffer, with the help of colleagues, proceeded to design a survey research organization and convince the Army to accept it. They had General Marshall's strong support and, as a result, Secretary Stimson was not inclined to enforce his ban on surveys.

During the course of World War II, Stouffer and his team conducted more than 200 surveys of Army personnel, collecting data from more than half a million soldiers. The data were transmitted to the Army leadership through briefings and monthly reports, which influenced policy in multiple substantive areas. Generals Eisenhower and Marshall were regular readers of the reports. Major advances in the methods of survey research were also made by the Research Branch. The social survey became institutionalized as a continuing tool for personnel managers in both military and civilian organizations. Thus, by the end of World War II, soldier attitudes and morale had joined aptitudes and morals as major foci of Army behavioral science. After the war, Stouffer and his team, with Carnegie Foundation support, reported their major substantive findings and methodological advances in a four-volume collection of studies in social psychology in World War II, including two volumes on “ The American Soldier” (Stouffer et al., 1949a; Stouffer, Suchman, DeVinney, Star, & Williams, 1949b), which have become important reference works in the behavioral sciences.

Samuel A. Stouffer was born in Sac City, Iowa, on June 6, 1900. His father was the publisher of the Sac City Sun newspaper. Samuel's high school studies reflected the broad middle-class education of the period, including Latin, German, French, English, economics, mathematics, physic and biology. After graduation, he matriculated at Morningside College in Sioux City, majoring in Latin. He then earned an MA in English at Harvard University, and in 1923 he returned to Sac City to take over the newspaper from his father, who had fallen ill. His early experience did not point to a career as a behavioral scientist or a military analyst. However, it endowed him with communication skills that were to serve him well, both in eliciting the commitment of Army leaders to the research program and in communicating the results of the research. His education in mathematics also contributed to his statistical acumen.

While publishing the newspaper, Stouffer encountered sociologist E.A. Ross and may have read Ross's (1908) social psychology textbook. Ross encouraged him to pursue a career in sociology. In 1926, Stouffer sold the newspaper and began graduate study in sociology at the University of Chicago. Chicago was one of the first American universities to be designed as a research university, and its sociology department pioneered empirical research in the discipline. The “Chicago School” was regarded as the premier sociology program in the nation. The university exposed Stouffer to interdisciplinary influences that he carried through his career. One of his most important mentors was L.L. Thurstone, one of the founders of psychometrics. Another was social statistician W.F. Ogburn, a strong advocate of applying scientific methods to sociological research and of the need to apply sociological knowledge to real-world problems. Stouffer's doctoral dissertation on the depression, directed by Ellsworth Faris, sought to demonstrate that statistical analysis of attitudes would yield results at least as valid as the then-common case study method. All of these influences were later to be reflected in the work of the Research Branch, which Stouffer referred to as social engineering, carried out by an interdisciplinary team, and integrating quantitative and qualitative methods through the use of interviews and trained combat observers to complement the surveys taken of Army units.

Stouffer finished his PhD in 1930, and in 1930-1931 he taught statistics at both the University of Wisconsin and Chicago. He spent the 1931–1932 academic year at the University of London doing postdoctoral study in statistics with R.A. Fisher and Karl Pearson, funded by the SSRC. In 1932 he returned as an assistant professor to the University of Wisconsin, where he primarily taught statistics and demography. He was promoted to full professor there in 1934, having received a generous offer of employment outside of academia. In 1935 he returned to the University of Chicago.

Events of the 1930s brought experts on statistics and survey research into the quest for understanding of the Great Depression and other social problems. Two research efforts in which Stouffer became involved were to feed into his Research Branch activities. First, the SSRC commissioned him to direct a research program regarding the effects of the Great Depression on American society. This project resulted in a series of 13 monographs, all with different authors, and gave Stouffer the experience of coordinating the efforts of a research team. It probably affected the willingness of the SSRC, which had supported his postdoctoral year in London, to provide initial support for the establishment of the Research Branch.

Second, the Carnegie Foundation had funded Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal's (1944) massive study of race relations in the United States. Myrdal recruited Stouffer to assist him. Myrdal returned to Sweden when Germany invaded that country, and Stouffer completed the project. This may have helped shape Stouffer's concern with race relations in the Army that was reflected in the surveys of the Research Branch. These were among the program's most frequently cited results and had two important spinoffs.

They helped shape Frank Capra's film, “ The Negro Soldier ,” which was part of the producer's “Why We Fight” propaganda series. The results of the Research Branch's findings on the effects of interaction between Black and White soldiers also served as a basis for Gordon Allport's (1954) “contact hypothesis,” published after the war in “ The Nature of Prejudice .” This hypothesis suggests that under specified conditions of contact between groups, intergroup prejudices are likely to be reduced. This process has subsequently been cited in work not only on racial integration, but also in ethnic, gender, and sexual orientation integration in the military (Segal, Smith, Segal, & Canuso, 2016).

The conceptual contributions of the Research Branch surveys are many, but two stand worthy of special note. First, the surveys served as a basis for the concept of relative deprivation, used to explain counterintuitive findings such as the higher satisfaction levels of black soldiers stationed in the South compared with those in the North. It was based on the recognition that soldiers' feelings about their service was rooted in their standards of comparison. black soldiers in the South compared themselves to southern black civilians, who generally were not as well off as soldiers were, whereas black soldiers in the North compared themselves to northern black civilians, who were better off. This concept is still widely used in the behavioral sciences and has served as a basis for theory development in several disciplines (Pettigrew, 2015).

Second, since World War II, and particularly since the advent of the all-volunteer force in 1973, the concept of cohesion has frequently been raised as a reason for limiting the diversity of the force. Stouffer's Research Branch research has frequently been cited, along with two other World War II research programs, as evidence that cohesion is an important component of combat effectiveness, that social homogeneity in units is an important factor in cohesion, that soldiers prefer to serve with others who are similar to them, and that therefore increasing the social diversity of the force through racial integration, gender integration, or sexual orientation integration of units will undermine cohesion and therefore reduce combat effectiveness. The two other studies cited in support of the importance of cohesion are Shils and Janowitz's (1948) article on the intelligence interrogations of German prisoners of war before their release and Marshall's (1978) afteraction group interviews with infantry companies.

The reliability and validity of these latter two studies as bases for restricting diversity in the military has been called into question (Segal & Kestnbaum, 2002). The surveys conducted by Stouffer and his colleagues stand as the best World War II evidence on the nature and importance of cohesion. In policy debates on diversity in the military, the assertion has frequently been made that Stouffer found cohesion to be the single most important factor in motivating soldiers in combat. In discussions regarding gender integration, cohesion has sometimes been rebranded as male bonding, in which female soldiers could not participate. But what did Stouffer and his team really find?

The term “ cohesion” does not appear in the index to “ The American Soldier” studies. However, reflecting a common World War II research concern with why soldiers fight, many of the Research Branch surveys asked the question, “Generally, in your combat experience, what was most important to you in making you want to keep going and do as well as you could?” The most common response selected by enlisted infantry combat veterans in the European theater was “Ending the Task”; that is, getting the war over and getting home (Stouffer et al. 1949a, pp. 108–109). Thirty-nine percent of these respondents chose this response (as did 14 percent of infantry officers). Responses reflecting what might be regarded as cohesion, including solidarity with the group (cannot let the other fellows down, sticking together, buddies depending on me, my friends around me), were in fact the second most frequently chosen responses: 14 percent of enlisted men and 15 percent of officers gave such answers. Officers thought that leadership and discipline were the most important factors (19 percent). Although there is considerable evidence in the Research Branch studies regarding the importance of group solidarity for many soldiers, subsequent recollections of these findings in policy debates markedly exaggerate the actual data.

In addition to conceptual advances, during the war Stouffer and his team developed cutting-edge techniques for the statistical analysis of the massive amounts of survey data derived from what was probably the first large-scale survey program to be conducted using “modern” computational machinery (Stouffer et al., 1950).

After the war, Stouffer left the University of Chicago and joined the faculty at Harvard University, where he founded and directed the Laboratory of Social Relations. He continued to consult with the newly established Department of Defense and other federal agencies. He also conducted a study, funded by the Ford Foundation, of American attitudes toward the Communist Party and toward government attempts to curtail communist activities. This led to Stouffer, a Republican, being caught up in Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist witch hunt. Having been accused of associating with communist subversives, particularly in the Social Relations Department at Harvard, his access to classified information was challenged, potentially restricting his utility to government agencies. Ultimately, after facing down Senator McCarthy in hearings in Boston, at which he was supported by former students who were priests and nuns and who attended in their clerical garb, he was successful both in maintaining his access and in publishing the results of his research, which showed that few Americans knew who Senator McCarthy was, and even fewer were concerned about communism. Most just wanted to get on with their lives (Stouffer, 1955).

Samuel A. Stouffer died in 1960 at 60 years of age. Psychologists and sociologists educated between World War II and the Vietnam War are likely to have been aware of him, and at least know of “ The American Soldier” studies and his research on attitudes toward communism-his most frequently cited research in those days. Many younger scholars continue to draw and build upon his work. Concepts such as relative deprivation, reference groups, role conflict, and the contact hypothesis, as well as advances he made in statistical methods, are part of the behavioral science tool box used by generations of scholars who have never heard of Samuel A. Stouffer (Segal, 2013).


Allport, G. W. (1944). The nature of prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Marshall, S. L. A. (1978). Men against fire. New York, NY: Morrow.

Myrdal, G. (1944). An American dilemma: The negro problem and modern democracy. New York, NY: Harper.

Pettigrew, T. F. (2015). Samuel Stouffer and relative deprivation. Social Psychology Quarterly, 78, 7–24.

Ross, E. A. (1908). Social psychology: An outline and source book. New York, NY: Macmillan.

Ryan, J. W. (2013). Samuel Stouffer and the GI Survey. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press.

Segal, D. R. (2013). Samuel A. Stouffer and military sociology. In J. W. Ryan (Ed.), Samuel Stouffer and the GI Survey (pp. xiii–xxxi). Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press.

Segal, D. R., & Kestnbaum, M. (2002). Professional closure in the military labor market: A critique of pure cohesion. In D. M. Snider & G. L. Watkins (Eds.), The future of the Army profession (pp. 439–458). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Segal, M. W., Smith, D. G., Segal, D. R., & Canuso, A. A. (2016). The role of leadership and peer behaviors in the performance and well-being of women in combat. Military Medicine, 181, 28–39.

Shils, E. A., & Janowitz, M. (1948). Cohesion and disintegration in the Wehrmacht in World War II. Public Opinion Quarterly, 12, 280–315.

Stouffer, S. A. (1955). Communism, conformity, & civil liberties. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Stouffer, S. A., Guttman, L., Suchman, E. A., Lazarsfeld, P. F., Starr, S. A., & Clausen, J. A. (1950). Measurement and predication: Vol. 4. Studies in social psychology in World War II. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

Stouffer, S. A., Lumsdaine, A. A., Lumsdaine, M. H., Williams, R. M., Jr., Smith, R. B., Janis, I. L., . . . Cottrell, L. S., Jr. (1949a). Combat and its aftermath: Vol. 2. Studies in social psychology in World War II: The American Soldier. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

Stouffer, S. A., Suchman, E. A., DeVinney, L. C., Star, S. A., & Williams, R. M., Jr. (1949b). Adjustment during army life. Vol. 1: Studies in social psychology in World War II: The American Soldier. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.