Fearlessness and courage: A laboratory study of paratrooper veterans of the Falklands War


Department of Psychology, Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK

Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T IY7, Canada


In two earlier studies it was found that decorated military bomb-disposal operators showed lower cardiac responses under stress than comparable but non-decorated operators. The purpose of the present study was to determine whether that distinctive reaction to stress could be demonstrated in other military subjects. The stress reactions of decorated and non-decorated paratrooper veterans were therefore investigated. Utilizing the method that was employed in previous studies, it was found that members of the Second Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, who had been decorated for conduct during the Falklands War, did not differ from similarly experienced but non-decorated paratroopers in cardiac response to laboratory stress, or in their ratings of fear. A relationship between estimates of physical fitness and cardiac response to stress was not found.

When the results from the two groups of paratrooper veterans were combined to form a single group, it was found that their cardiac responsiveness and subjective accounts of fear were lower than those of non-decorated bomb-disposal operators. The relatively low levels of fear in the reports given by these veteran paratroopers, and their competent behavioural responses during the stress test, justifies their description as ‘fearless’.