Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Health Related Sciences

First Advisor

Amy Armstrong


Current military operational environments are highly improvised and constantly evolving, threatening the lives of U.S. warfighters. For instance, since 2001, 60% of all hostile casualties and 65% of hostile injuries in the Middle East theater have been attributed to improvised explosive devices (IEDs). IEDs are powerful physical weapons, and the stressful atmosphere they, and other operational challenges create, can also result in a range of psychological dysfunctions, including anxiety, depression, alcohol abuse, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Not only are these issues concerning for mental health reasons, they are also problematic in terms of combat performance. Extreme arousal (i.e., stress) negatively affects performance through the suppression of cognitive and physiological resources, which inhibits verbal, perceptual, and motor performance. Perceptual abilities are particularly susceptible to the effects of acute hyperarousal, and the degradation of these abilities may limit warfighters’ threat detection skills. Therefore, military researchers are interested in whether and how the visual perceptual field is changed under stress, and the Services are making predeployment training programs a priority, in an attempt to mitigate these concerns. This dissertation first outlines the cognitive processes related to visual perceptual abilities and how these processes are negatively affected by acute arousal. Current training programs in perceptual skills and stress tolerance are then described, along with recommendations for areas of improvement within the status quo. Based on these recommendations, an experimental procedure and five hypotheses were designed to assess training effects on visual perceptual skills and performance under stress. Experimental outcomes suggest that participants who were trained using a novel integrated perceptual skills plus stress resilience (“perceptual resilience”) program performed faster and with higher accuracy during a stressful threat detection task than participants trained using a perceptual skills-only program and participants trained using an existing status-quo knowledge trainer. Participants in this perceptual resilience training group also reported lower feelings of acute stress and anxiety immediately post-task than the two other training groups who did not receive the stress resilience training component. Based on these outcomes, implications for future military-specific training development, study limitations, and recommendations for future research is presented.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

May 2012