Group Will Study Effects Of Nuclear Awareness

A team of medical researchers that includes three Harvard affiliates is establishing a program devoted to studying the impact of the threat of nuclear war on the human psyche.

The Research Program for the Study of Human Continuity--which will probably include interviews with Soviet and American children on nuclear war--should be in full operation by this fall, Dr. Dorothy A. Austin, clinical fellow in psychology at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Hospital, said yesterday.

The program "sees as its mission in-depth, systematic research into the psychological, historical, and political complexities which maintain and perpetuate nuclear weapons," according to a written prospectus.

While the seven researchers will be head-quartered at Cambridge Hospital, Austin said, funding for the group's projects--including lectures, symposia, books, and conferences--will come from outside sources. Austin said several foundations are "excited" at the group's plans, but she declined to give specific financial figures.

Besides Austin, the other Harvard affiliates on the research team are Dr. John E. Mack, professor of psychiatry at the Cambridge Hospital; and Roberta Snow, leader of Educators for Social Responsibility.

Another researcher involved in the project, MIT psychiatrist Eric S. Chivian, said yesterday he plans to focus on children's reactions to nuclear war.

Chivian--who has already filmed interviews with first-through ninth-graders in the Boston area--hopes to speak with Soviet children on their feelings towards nuclear war.

The comparison, he said, should shed light on the psychological effects of nuclear awareness on American children, who have had far more exposure to the nuclear issues than the Soviets.

"Even kids in the first grade are talking about their fears," Chivian said, and that dread "translates into a fear that they may not grow up." The implications of this fear are far-reaching, because there is a great danger of raising a generation of children "some of whom have no belief in the future," he added.

The program's planned projects have already begun attracting the interest of other Harvard departments and schools, including the School of Public Health, the Divinity School, the Kennedy School of Government's Center for Science and International Affairs, and the Departments of Philosophy and History in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Social Medicine and Health Policy at the Medical School.

In addition, Austin said, "We want to engage in as many ways as possible with undergraduates."

Mack and Lifton are the co-directors of the program, and Austin and University of Minnesota professor Eric Markuson will serve as "administrator/researchers" of the project, which Austin decried as "a research center, a meeting place and also a center which initiates some outreach to the general public."