Post-combat invincibility: Violent combat experiences are associated with increased risk-taking propensity following deployment

William D.S. Killgore, Dave I. Cotting, Jeffrey L. Thomas, Anthony L. Cox, Dennis McGurk, Alexander H. Vo, Carl A. Castro, Charles W. Hoge

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    262 Scopus citations


    Combat exposure is associated with increased rates of mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety when Soldiers return home. Another important health consequence of combat exposure involves the potential for increased risk-taking propensity and unsafe behavior among returning service members. Survey responses regarding 37 different combat experiences were collected from 1252 US Army Soldiers immediately upon return home from combat deployment during Operation Iraqi Freedom. A second survey that included the Evaluation of Risks Scale (EVAR) and questions about recent risky behavior was administered to these same Soldiers 3 months after the initial post-deployment survey. Combat experiences were reduced to seven factors using principal components analysis and used to predict post-deployment risk-propensity scores. Although effect sizes were small, specific combat experiences, including greater exposure to violent combat, killing another person, and contact with high levels of human trauma, were predictive of greater risk-taking propensity after homecoming. Greater exposure to these combat experiences was also predictive of actual risk-related behaviors in the preceding month, including more frequent and greater quantities of alcohol use and increased verbal and physical aggression toward others. Exposure to violent combat, human trauma, and having direct responsibility for taking the life of another person may alter an individual's perceived threshold of invincibility and slightly increase the propensity to engage in risky behavior upon returning home after wartime deployment. Findings highlight the importance of education and counseling for returning service members to mitigate the public health consequences of elevated risk-propensity associated with combat exposure.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1112-1121
    Number of pages10
    JournalJournal of Psychiatric Research
    Issue number13
    StatePublished - Oct 2008


    • Combat
    • EVAR
    • Iraq
    • Mental health
    • Public health
    • Risk taking

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Psychiatry and Mental health
    • Biological Psychiatry


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