Benefit Finding at War: A Matter of Time


  • The findings described in this article were collected under a Walter Reed Army Institute of Research Protocol. The views expressed in this article reflect those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official policy or position of the U.S. Army Medical Command or the Department of Defense.

    Thomas W. Britt is also with the Department of Psychology, Clemson University.


Benefit finding, described as one's ability to find benefits from stressful situations, has been hypothesized as a buffer against the negative effects of stress on mental health outcomes. Nonetheless, many have questioned the buffering potential of benefit finding in the face of prolonged and excessive stress such as is found in the combat environment. This study suggests that the length of a combat deployment and benefit finding may impact the relationship between combat exposure and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Surveys were distributed to U.S. enlisted soldiers (n = 1,917), officers, and warrant officers (n = 163) of various combat and combat support units deployed to Iraq. A significant 3-way interaction (sr2 = .004, p < .05) revealed that benefit finding buffered soldiers from increased PTSD symptoms under high levels of combat exposure early in the deployment, but not in later months. These results indicate that although benefit finding may be a useful coping approach during the early phases of deployment, prolonged exposure to stress may diminish a soldier's ability to use benefit finding as a method for coping.