Monday, April 18, 2022

American Psychological Association: The role of psychological warfare in the battle for Ukraine


Something a bit different today. Rather than analysis I am providing some highlights from a well respected academic and professional source – the American Psychological Association.


As an online instructor for American Military University and the Monterey College of Law I am often asked about ‘peer reviewed scholarly journals’ for students’ use in military intelligence and related subjects. Unfortunately and necessarily, much of the current subject matter is often classified so that there is a paucity of these sources.


One of my new sources, the SOF News showcased an article from the American Psychological Association (topic as in the headline) on April 11, 2022 which you can see at:, which is also a photo source..


The article starts out by stating “at least 70 countries have engaged in coordinated online disinformation campaigns in recent years, with Russia alone launching more than 30 attacks on elections around the world since 2016 (2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation (PDF, 6.05MB), University of Oxford; Hacking Democracies, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 2019).”


Here some highlights:

“The Ukrainians are fighting a 21st-century war, which is half on the internet,” said Stephan Lewandowsky, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Bristol who studies misinformation at the societal level. “That new approach has worked extremely well because it has preempted Russian attempts to rewrite history.”


A “ploy Russian President Vladimir Putin has used to great success is conspiracy “gish gallop,” or rapid-fire lying, said Roozenbeek, for instance around the Malaysian Airlines disaster of 2014. The Kremlin’s constant stream of lies—that it was a Ukrainian attack, that all the passengers were dead before takeoff, that the pilot intentionally crashed the plane—is used to sow confusion and disillusionment (Paul, C., & Matthews, M., RAND Corporation (PDF, 177KB), 2016).”


Once it takes hold, misinformation is tough to correct. Psychologists have shown that prebunking, or preemptively warning people about incorrect or misleading information, is more effective than debunking falsehoods after the fact (Lewandowsky, S., et al., The Debunking Handbook 2020). Personal and emotional appeals, rather than merely providing a fact-check, can also be helpful.


The article also offers some suggestions on further reading in case you are interested:

LikeWar: The weaponization of social media
Singer, P. W., & Brooking, E. T., 2018

Controlling the spread of misinformation
APA, 2021

Putin, Zelenskyy, and Biden all have unique leadership styles
Hunter, S., & Scott Ligon, G., The Conversation, 2022

Misinformation, disinformation, and violent conflict: From Iraq and the “War on Terror” to future threats to peace.
Lewandowsky, S., et al., American Psychologist, 2013

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