Introduction: The Study
of Stress and Human
Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division
James E. Driskell
Florida Maxima Corporation
A wonderful concept is "stress" --
What it means is anyone's guess.
Though it's fun to be clinical
and rude to be cynical,
operationally it is a mess!
-- Parsons, cited in Weitz ( 1966)
The topic of stress is approached by many with trepidation because it is a difficult and often confusing subject. Stress is a psychological concept and as such is not concrete--it cannot be touched or perceived directly. Therefore, many who deal with "real-world" matters day in and day out may prefer not to deal with the topic of stress at all. During a meeting on stress and military performance attended by one of the present authors, one officer stood up and said, "There is no stress in my organization--I will not allow it!" Another officer said, "I want my people to be stressed, it keeps them on their toes." After hearing several such statements, one of those present who was responsible for training remarked, "Let's just make sure our personnel know how to perform their jobs, and forget about stress."
Sitting in that meeting (having chosen, wisely, not to launch into a speech on the merits of scientific inquiry), several thoughts came to mind. First, it was obvious that stress means many things to many people. For every one person who says that stress helped him storm the beach at Iwo Jima, there is another person who says that stress almost caused her to miss a landing approach while piloting an aircraft. Second, some discussed stress in positive terms, some discussed stress in negative terms, and some obviously preferred not to discuss stress at all. Third, it seemed that the trainer's hesitance not to tackle such an