It would be unethical to intentionally subject people to extreme psychological duress in the name of science. But ongoing military operations offer opportunities to see what happens to people exposed to stressful situations.
Researchers in the Netherlands found the brains of soldiers who go into combat show impairment in function and structure upon returning, but that these effects largely go away over time.
A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at 33 healthy Dutch soldiers deployed to Afghanistan for four months. It was the first military deployment for all of them, part of a NATO peacekeeping operation.
Researchers compared these participants to 26 soldiers who were never deployed.
The soldiers who were deployed experienced armed combat and exposure to enemy fire, as well as other common combat stressors. But this did not appear to aggravate stress symptoms; researchers did not find significant differences in post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and mood scores between the deployed and non-deployed groups.
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