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Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research

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ARMOR

Advancing Research on Mechanisms of Resilience (ARMOR): Prospective Longitudinal Study of Adaptation in New Military Recruits

Background and Significance:

Military service members are confronted with multiple stressors and challenges unique to military life even during peacetime. Basic Combat Training (BCT) is an intensive 8-12-week training period involving dramatic changes in living environment, mental challenges, and extreme physical demands. While most successfully adapt to these challenges, nearly 20% of National Guard (NG) military recruits fail to complete BCT. Mental health problems (including those developing while in the military) as well as conduct problems are the most common reasons for early attrition of new recruits, a longstanding and costly problem for the military.

Resilience is defined as the capacity for positive adaptation through multiple processes to challenges and adverse events. While numerous studies have utilized latent growth class analyses to demonstrate resilient patterns of adjustment in the face of stressors, there is a dearth of research examining neurobehavioral processes that may underlie resilient functioning. Self-regulation of attention, cognition, and behavior is associated with responding effectively to adversity and is protective against the deleterious effects of stress. Predisposing individual differences factors (e.g., biologically-based personality traits) and social contextual factors can influence or interact with these self-regulation processes to influence the effects of stressor exposure/adversity on outcomes. A substantial body of research across the lifespan shows that deficits in self-regulation are associated with greater risk for a range of problems including psychopathology, substance abuse, sexual risk taking, and poor physical health. A central hypothesis guiding this study is that self-regulatory processes (the flexible regulation of attention, cognition, emotion, and behavior) represent a key mechanism contributing to resilience in response to adversity/stressor exposure, which could be targeted for prevention and treatment using mind-body approaches.

Study Aims:

The long-term goal of this project is to advance our understanding of processes contributing to resilience following stressor exposure in order to develop more effective prevention and intervention strategies for promoting resilience in at risk populations. Our immediate objective is to develop a comprehensive dynamic model of resilience using an integrated, multilevel perspective. To achieve this objective, this project brings together a transdisciplinary team of researchers from the Minneapolis VA Health Care System and University of Minnesota with expertise in the areas of resilience, cognitive neuroscience, experimental psychopathology, developmental psychology, longitudinal methods, advanced statistical modeling, and complementary/ integrative medicine to work in collaboration on a two-phase project. We propose the following aims:

Phase 1 (UG3; Year 1): Planning/pilot studies with prior data sets and a pilot National Guard cohort.

Aim 1.1.       Develop optimal statistical algorithms for selecting participants with high and low probabilities of resilience

Aim 1.2.       Field test baseline data collection procedures to determine feasibility of enrollment and response rate targets for proposed longitudinal study

Aim 1.3.      Develop and refine contextualized measures characterizing stressor exposure during BCT

Aim 1.4.      Evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of neurobehavioral tasks for the evaluation of resilience processes

Phase 1 (UH3; Years 2 – 5): Conduct a prospective, longitudinal cohort study of new military enlistees assessed prior to and over a period of 24 months (four waves) following BCT.

Aim 2.1.       Characterize latent trajectories of adjustment among military recruits beginning prior to BCT over two years.

Aim 2.2.       Identify promotive and protective predictors of resilient functioning in National Guard soldiers.

Aim 2.3.       Investigate neurobehavioral markers of self-regulation predictive of resilience trajectories in military recruits.

Methods:

Phase 1 will make use of prior data sets made up of 4 waves of observation on over 3,000 NG soldiers and/or spouses before and after stressor exposure, and novel data collection from a pilot cohort of 100 NG recruits with survey and neurobehavioral assessment. Phase 2 will involve pre-BCT and 4 waves of post-BCT self-report data collection to characterize resilience vs. non-resilience trajectories and their predictors. Finally, neurobehavioral assessments using MRI imaging and psychophysiological observation during behavioral tasks involving attentional, cognitive, and behavioral self-regulation will elucidate mechanisms underlying resilience.