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Harvard Psychiatrist Analyzes Psychology of the Arms Race

By Joseph B. Borini

"Technology has outstripped our powers of thought," Dr. Henry Abraham, clinical instructor in Psychiatry at the Medical School yesterday told a seminar on arms control at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

During a presentation entitled "A Psychiatric Model Toward Ending the Arms Race", Abraham analyzed international relations in the nuclear age using a psychological approach.

Abraham said society is too psychologically immature to cope with a balance of power resting precariously on massive nuclear arsenals. The advent of nuclear weaponry "has no intellectual equivalent in our history," Abraham said.

Consequently, he added, society is having difficulty dealing with this new, potentially disastrous, technology.


Nothing that the United State's defense policy is based on deterrence, Abraham said that, psychologically, deterrence is one of the least effective ways of altering behavior, since it is a negative approach based on punishment. Conversely, positive approaches based on rewards can best influence the actions of others, he added.

In addition to analyzing the behavior of groups, such as governments, Abraham examined individual reactions to the arms race. He said many people set up "ego defenses" to ward off unacceptable feelings. These ego defenses can assume many forms ranging from denial to paranoia.

Along with ego defenses, he listed revenge and dehumanization as two psychological factors increasing the likelihood of war.

Abraham, however, conceded that there exist limits to applying individual psychology to groups. "A Freudian psychologist would say that we as a nation suffer from 'missile envy,"' he said.


As a solution to the arms race, Abraham suggested that the United States and the Soviet Union concentrate on conflict reduction rather than conflict resolution.

To achieve this Abraham called for increasing communication with the Soviets, publicizing the consequences of a nuclear war, and starting a mass movement on behalf of arms control. He added, "It's time for America to come out of its psychological closet."

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