Contracts Don't Always Begin on the Dotted Line: Psychological Contracts and PTSD in Female Service Members in Iraq

by Alan L. Hensley, Ph.D Candidate, B.C.E.T.S., F.A.A.E.T.S
Capella University


The full extent of employee expectations in an employment relationship is often fraught with situationally dependent ambiguity and unspoken gender-specific expectations. Since the 1960’s, several theorists have sought to explain employee behavior in context of the perceived exchange relationship between employer and employee. While a substantial body of research explores the construction and consequences of the psychological contract in the civilian context, little research has been conducted to explore the effects of the psychological contract in the military environment; especially as it relates to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. This paper examines the influence of schemas, mental models, and psychological contracts resulting from past experiences in the deployment outcome of three female soldiers. The paper makes recommendations for future research and proposes as methodology for exploring the influence of psychological contracts in resilience, self-remediation, and deployment outcome of other female soldiers.

Schemas, Mental Models, and Psychological Contracts in Female Soldiers in Iraq

Ending her shift on a mountaintop near midnight in northern Iraq, Sergeant Kayla Williams (2005) doesn’t feel tired. So, she decides to visit her friend, Matt, in the COLT Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) Operations Center where he works. The center is typically dark as she enters, so Williams moves closer to see the person on watch to whom she would be speaking. Usually two or more operators are on duty at all times. This time, however, only one person is present, and it is not Matt. Noting how odd this is, she questions the person on watch regarding Matt’s whereabouts. He responds that he had not awakened Matt for his shift. Feeling awkward, Williams engages in small talk as she prepares to leave. As her eyes become accustomed to the dim lighting, Williams is surprised to see the male soldier’s pants are open and he is apparently in the process of masturbating. As Williams turns to leave, she feels a hand on her wrist. The soldier begins to pull her hand towards his penis. Williams pulls hard to release his grip while uttering that she is not interested, but the soldier is far stronger than she is. She begins consciously reviewing her courses of action. A thought goes through her mind that she never previously thought possible; she had been provided a weapon to protect herself from the enemy, but now she might have to use it against one of her own to protect herself. She could also awaken Matt and others by screaming, but then she would appear weak and unable to handle situation herself. Suddenly, she reflects back to being sexually assaulted at the age of 13. She begins to think how much more intelligent, stronger, and able to resist now than she was then. As she continues to physically resist, Williams (2005) argues, “Think of your girlfriend … Shouldn’t you be thinking of her.” However, he argues in return, “No one has to know.” As Williams resists with all her might, the soldier inexplicably releases his grip. Williams quickly retreats to her vehicle and leaves.

The remainder of that night, Williams anguishes in her bunk over what to do. In her mind, female soldiers are viewed as either sluts or bitches by their male counterparts, referring to those who voluntarily engage in sex with the male soldiers and those who do not. If she reports the incident for formal investigation, she knows she will be viewed as a traitor to those with whom she works and upon whom she depends for survival. If she doesn’t report the incident, the perpetrator will be free to commit similar acts on other females who are not as old and not as experienced she was. As morning dawns, Williams speaks about the incident with her Staff Sergeant. Fearing the repercussions of a formal investigation, Williams agrees to an administrative handling of the incident. A few days later, the perpetrator is transferred. Unfortunately, the traumatic repercussions do not end with his transfer.

Nearly a month later, Williams is on watch as another male soldier begins speaking with her about the incident. However, in his version, Williams was not the victim, but instead she was the instigator. The soldier suggests all of the other soldiers with whom she worked believe the story as related by the perpetrator is true. Williams’ life began to spiral out of control. Wrought with anxiety, depression, and a feeling of betrayal, Williams survives day-by-day, and moment-by-moment. She withdraws socially from the others in her unit except Matt. He is the only other person she feels as though she can rely upon for support. However, Matt too begins to be psychologically affected by all of the experiences around him. Many of the other men in her unit begin to make rape jokes when Williams is present. In retrospect, Williams (2005, p. 214) thought to herself, “[T]he guys I considered my friends were treating me like a girl. I was a piece of ass, a bitch or a slut or whatever, but never really a person.” Depressed and despondent, Williams even contemplates suicide to end the pain. The weight she was barely able to maintain on her petite frame begins to melt away. Despite the weight loss, however, she does not feel hungry. Fortunately, her unit is relocated to a larger area soon afterwards, and she is able to reunite with her friend Zoe. This move, arguably, saves Williams’ life. On February 8, 2004, Williams returns safely home from Iraq, but the term, safely, is relative.

Far too often, the phrase, “returned safely home,” refers to safety in a physical context. However, safety should reflect the holistic biological, psychological, and sociological (biopsychosocial) wellbeing, especially when that wellbeing is disrupted by feelings of betrayal and perceived violations of one’s psychological contract in a stressful life-threatening environment. It is argued that it is in such situations mutuality matters most. For Williams’s, any perception of mutuality was lost in this environment. Increased research of predeployment psychological contracts, schemas, and mental models of both genders needs to be conducted to better care for the holistic wellbeing of deployed forces.

Post-deployment research and empirical data largely reflects the narrow position that post-deployment post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in combat is exclusively the result of traumatic experiences and operational stress resulting from actions of the adversary. However, additional research should be performed regarding PTSD resulting from own-force violations of psychological contracts and betrayal trauma, especially among female service members.

This article will discuss the foundations of the schemas, mental models, and psychological contracts and will explore violations of psychological contracts of through the lenses of three female soldiers deployed to similar environments.


Recent studies (Heck, Schweitzer & Seidel-Wiesel, 2004; Hall & Salmon, 2002; Hattie, Myers & Sweeney, 2004; Nabkasorn, Miyai, Sootmongkol, Junprasert, Yamamoto & Miyashita, 2006) provide empirical evidence of the systematic relationship between a person’s biological, psychological, and sociological (biopsychosocial) self and his or her holistic wellbeing. Additionally, research (Tansey, Mizelle, Ferrin, Tschopp, Frain, 2004) supports the relationship between the biopsychosocial system and a person’s perception, cognition, and behavior. Harkening back to Darwinian Theory members of all species are innately predisposed towards behavior that ensures survival of self. Assuming an evolutionist lens, then, the human mind is innately predisposed to formulate propositions that would enable survival of self.

People are also seen as being resilient and innately predisposed to develop adaptive solutions to overcome traumatic or stressful experiences. However, the biological and psychological resources necessary for resilience are not infinite. Thus, biopsychosocial resources must be identified, prioritized, and optimized, which often results in stress as the person struggles with benefits and consequences of his or her choices and the limitations of resources. Stress disrupts to the body’s normal equilibrium. Within the context of the present discussion, research (Tansey, Mizelle, Ferrin, Tschopp, Frain, 2004) finds not all stress is undesirable. For example, the biopsychosocial benefit of short-term stress is seen to enable task accomplishment. However, long-term stress potentially causes lasting detrimental biopsychosocial consequences. A substantial body of empirical data (Freeman, 2002; Padgett & Glaser, 2003; Kunz-Ebrecht, Kirschbaum & Steptoe, 2004) supports the harmful biopsychosocial effects of prolonged long-term stress. Empirical data finds overproduction of cortisol, triggered by stress response, can lead to sub-clinical inflammation, adrenal burnout, memory loss, and premature aging. It is suggested, then, as a strategy for self-survival, a person will subconsciously adjust the component parts of his or her biopsychosocial self in a life-sustaining effort to find an equilibrium to reduce harmful long-term stress. The following section will correlate this assertion to the major theories of human development.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow (1968) postulates a pyramid of six deficiency needs followed by two growth needs. In progression to the pinnacle of self-transcendence (spiritual needs), an individual must achieve and maintain satisfaction of each of the underlying six deficiency needs – physiological, safety, belongingness, esteem, cognitive, and aesthetic – and the growth need of self-actualization (in Pervin, Cervone, & John, 2005). Satisfaction of these levels is not, however, static. Rather, satisfaction is dynamic and relative to the perceived relationship of the individual to his or her current environment. In other words, attainment of a level of needs is not inextricably assured; changes in an individual’s life or environmental circumstances may cause stagnation or regression, resulting in the need to reacquire any of the six phases. In fact, a person might ascend and descend the hierarchy of needs several times in his or her lifetime. This foundational thought is crucial to understanding deployment to a combat environment. As the traumatic stress intensifies, the level at which a person operates regresses until it reaches a previously acquired level of perceived safety. While Wahba and Bridwell (1976) found little evidence to support Maslow’s assertions for the existence or ranking of needs, other researchers (Nohria, Lawrence, & Wilson, 2001) find the hierarchical theory pivital to understanding human development.

Piaget’s Theory

Piaget (1983; Beilin, 1992) conceptualizes a person’s understanding of reality in relationship to specific chronological stages in his of her life. Specifically, Piaget postulates during the first two years of life, the person is engaged in the sensorimotor stage. During the sensorimotor stage, the infant experiences sub-stages: development of reflexes (birth to 6 weeks), development of habits (6 weeks - 4 months), coordination between vision and prehension (i.e., taking control, grasping, or seizing) (four - nine months), development of logic and the coordination between means and ends (9 – 12 months), discovery of new means to meet goals (12 – 18 months), and the beginnings of insight, or true creativity (18 months – 2 years).

Following the sesorimotor stage, the child enters into the preoperational stage (2 – 7 years), in which he or she learns symbolic functioning, centration, intuitive thought, egocentrism, categorization or serialization, classification, and the inablility to conserve. From seven to eleven years of age a person undergoes the concrete operational stage in which he or she learns the use of logic. During the concrete operational stage, the person learns to view reality from another person’s perspective. From 11 years of age through adulthood, the person experiences the formal operational stage in which he or she develops his or her ability to think abstractly and make conclusions from the available information. Piaget himself, however, found assignment of stages to age to be relative and subject to individual experiences.

Erikson’s Theory

Erikson (1950, 1964, 1968, 1974), alternatively, postulates human development in eight distinct stages which might be succinctly conceptualized as the oral-sensory, muscular-anal, locomotor, latency, adolescence, young adulthood, middle adulthood, and maturity stages, in which one learns hope, will, purpose, competence, fidelity, love, caring, and wisdom respectively. Interestingly, Erikson postulates the outcome of each discrete stage is based on outcome of internal conflict. Thus, the Erikson Theory relates favorably to the development of personality traits and locus of control based on life experiences. During the oral-sensory stage (birth-1 year of age) a person learns trust versus mistrust. During the muscular-anal stage (1-3 years), a person learns autonomy versus self-doubt. In the locomotor stage (3-6 years), a person learns independence and initiative versus inadequacy. During the latency stage (6-12 years), a person learns industry versus inferiority. During adolescence (12-18 years), a person learns identity versus confusion and learns the importance of peer relationships. In young adulthood (18-40), people grow through love relationships learning intimacy versus isolation. Unfortunately, this is also the chronological timeframe in which many service members currently experience the trauma and stress associated with combat. The relationships he or she experiences are pivotal to life-long perception, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behavior in social and intimate relationships. During middle adulthood (40-65 years), a person struggles with generativity versus stagnation. Finally, from 65 years until his or her death (maturity) a person struggles with integrity versus despair; reflecting on earlier experiences and behavior.

Theoretical Analysis

While the included theories are fundamental to the understanding of basic psychology and human development, each of the theories has acquired both proponents and opponents. Largely, opponents argue human development cannot be conceptualized into contrite age-related categories. Taken as a whole, however, the theories provide important points of intersection, such as the relevance of both nature and nurture, the foundational importance of family relationships in early development, the diminishing importance of family and increasing significance of peer relationships in developmental evolution, the progression from family to peer relationships in the development of trust, and the perceived importance of the psychological contract in human development. As envisioned by Maslow, ascendancy of the pyramid of human needs is not inextricably assured; rather a person might ascend and descend the pyramid several times during his or her lifetime. Additionally, PTSD researchers and clinicians (van der Kolk, McFarlane, & Weisaeth, 1996; Scaer, 2005) argue traumatic experience and prolonged stress might result in developmental stagnation or regression toward an earlier attained stage of relative safety. In conceptualization then, trauma is reflective of a person’s individualized beliefs and perception of reality, or psychological contract, with important others. Given that people are innately driven to survival, he or she develops coping strategies, or schemas, to ensure survival. Unfortunately, because of limited competence, learning, or experience, however, some schemas might later prove to be maladaptive and, as such, require subsequent modification.

Schema Theory

Some theorists (in Pinker, 2002) suggest the human mind is born as a blank slate, devoid of any preconceived abstractions of reality or strategies for survival. Other theorists (in Pinker, 2002) suggest people are born with an embryonic conceptualization of his or her environment and primitive strategies for survival derived from biology or perhaps evolution. Regardless, as a person evolves from his or her natal state, he or she develops preconceived models and strategies for interacting with his or her environment.

Researchers and clinicians (Public Health Service, n.d.) have repeatedly found response to new experiences, rather than resulting from a myriad of disparate biologically-, psychologically-, and sociologically-grounded responses, is instead a systematic biopsychosocial response derived from a highly complex, individually derived algorithm of the myriad of factors, such as self-esteem and optimism, reflecting the person’s perception of self in relationship to his or her environment and his or her ability to influence that relationship. The ability to influence his or her situation might be based upon analysis, experiences, beliefs, or faith. Recently, a large-scale cross-sectional survey (Curlin, Sellergren, Lantos, & Chin, 2007) of 2,000 practitioners, for example, reaffirmed the asserted importance of religiosity and spirituality in patient’s holistic biopsychosocial wellbeing. Seventy-six percent of the respondents indicated that he or she believed a patient’s religiosity or spirituality helped him or her cope with often life-threatening illness and, in some cases, influence the physical outcome.

Schema Development

Unfortunately, reanalysis of all of the diverse factors required to analyze, understand, and respond each time new experiences are encountered would be, at best, time-consuming. Additionally, finite perceptual, cognitive, and responsive capacities argue for the need for preconceived or pre-established analytical models and strategies to reduce systematic demands each time a similar experience is encountered. Consequently, theorists (Young, 1990, 1999; Young, Klosko, & Weishaar, 2003) postulate people rely upon a system of mental models and associated schemas to view, analyze, and respond to his or her environment.

Schemas then are the underlying connections by which new experiences and information are contrasted with a person’s prior knowledge to create a new understanding of reality (McCarthy, 1991; McCarthy & Carter, 1994). Without proper schemas, a person cannot extract meaning from new experiences. Initially rudimentary, embryonic schemas in infants accommodate the first of Maslow’s levels of needs – physiological needs. However, as the infant evolves and begins to acquire new data from experience, the schematic architecture increases in both height and breadth to enable a person to function with a greater degree of automaticity.

The Schematic Architecture

Generalizability is found in the vertical dimension, in which a person increases his or her global perspective based upon the perceived relationship between new experiences. However, as new information is obtained through education and experience relevant to specific experiences, the schematic architecture increases in breadth. In either case, creation of new schemas is not static. While durable and relatively resilient once formed (Young, 1991, 1994), schemas are subject to modification, or even deletion based upon new information and need.

Rather than entering the schematic architecture at a specifically applicable schema, new information is seen to enter the architecture in a top-down approach; descending from the global level until level suitable schema for contrast and response is found. Note, schemas employed in exigent or stressful circumstances are not necessarily the best schema for the task, but rather the first suitable schema that will potentially result in favorable outcome (Young, 1991, 1994). Based upon outcome of the selected schema(s), the schematic architecture might then undergo the processes of accretation, tuning, or restructuring. Accretation occurs when new information is assimilated without altering the overall schematic architecture. Schemas inadequate to suitably accommodate the new information are modified in a process of tuning. Restructuring occurs when schemas are found to be wholly unsuitable or major inconsistencies exist between existing schemas and the new information.

The Mental Model

The mental model is a learned process composed of schemata derived from biopsychosocial and environmental stimuli that traverse well beyond schema theory to include perceptions of task demands and task performances. Right or wrong, once recalled, the mental model helps to identify which information is most important for the task, what can be ignored or discarded, and how to interpret that information. Most importantly, theorists and researchers (Young, 1990, 1999; Young, Klosko, & Weishaar, 2003) argue a mental model does not need to be in the conscious mind to influence subsequent cognition and behavior. In some instances, recall may be subconscious and applied to a situation without conscious awareness of it.

Psychological Contracts

Generally, a contract is a legally enforceable promise-based mutual exchange between two or more parties (Cornell Law School, n.d.). Over the past two decades, however, researchers (Robinson & Rousseau, 1994; Robinson & Morrison, 1995, 2000; Herriott, Manning, & Kidd, 1997; Rousseau & Tijoriwala, 1999; Rousseau, 2001) have studied the effects of the psychological contract on worker perception, cognition, and behavior. Originally conceptualized in 1960 (Argyris, 1960), researchers such as Rousseau (1989, 1995, 1996a, 1996b, 2001; Robinson, Kratz, & Rousseau, 1992) suggest a psychological contract is comprised of subjective beliefs a person holds regarding the exchange agreement between himself or herself and the organization (Rousseau, 1989). Realizing that all aspects could not possibly be accounted for in the formal expressed contract, the psychological contract is, then, a subjective conceptualization of the unexpressed obligations of the organization and what he or she owes in return. Because psychological contracts involve subjective employee beliefs of the reciprocal obligations between themselves and their employers, Rousseau (1995) suggests they can be viewed as foundational to the functionality of the exchange relationship. Rousseau and other researchers have then explored the effect violation of a psychological contract has on employee wellbeing (Robinson, Kratz, & Rousseau, 1994). Understanding how military indoctrination and post-enlistment socialization shape formulation and maintenance of the psychological contracts of military members, especially as related to gender, age, and sociocultural affiliation, is relatively embryonic. However, it is suggested greater understanding can be achieved by analyzing contemporary research of schemas, promises, and perceptual accuracy in interpersonal interactions.

Thomas and Anderson (1998), for example, studied the concept of psychological contracts among British Army recruits. One of the few studies of the effect of psychological contract in the military context, Thomas and Anderson (1998) found recruits formed increased expectations of job security, social and leisure time, effect on the family and accommodation within eight weeks of entry into the military; the converse of similar studies of employees in a civilian environment. However, with longevity, the recruits aligned more closely with reality.

Factors Potentially Influencing Psychological Contracts

Perceived roles are pivotal to how people view other people (Kidder & Parks, 2001). Roles also create expectations of expected behaviors, especially with regards to gender roles. However, multiple roles often result in dissonance in self-assessment and assessment of others. In the present discussion, roles of interest include gender roles versus professional roles; specifically the convergence and divergence of the two roles in female versus male soldiers deployed in Iraq.

Gender roles reflect sociocultural expectations of appropriate gender-related behavior. As a general rule, people are expected to behave in accordance with societal expectations (Brehm, Kassin, & Fein, 2005). Deviation might be expected to result in negative outcome (Kidder & Parks, 2001). Gender roles might also be greatly influenced by perception by the person of in-group or out-group affiliation, affected by, or resulting from, perceived psychological contract breaches or violations.

While gender and professional roles often provide divergent expectations, they might also provide points of intersection where gender roles overflow into unspecified breadth of the psychological contract of both the employer and employee regarding the scope of professional duties. Socially correct or not, sterotyping continues to pervade the professional environment (Kidder & Parks, 2001). Males and females continue to predominantly categorize professions according to gender roles (Kidder & Parks; Bielby & Baron, 1986). When an occupation, such as the military, continues to be predominantly occupied by one gender or the other, gender becomes relevant; resulting in stereotypical representation and polarization. Empirical data (Kidder & Parks, 2001) suggests people conceptualize general beliefs of themselves, often referred to as self-schemas (Markus, 1977). These abstractions then influence his or her perception of others and relevance to his or her environment. Individuals with greater gender-related self-schema are predisposed to negatively view gender-inconcruent behavior. This assertion is grounded in the social learning theory, which argues incursion by the non-traditional gender disrupts the status quo. Thus, because of the threat to uniquely male identity, male soldiers are likely to be biased against female soldiers in the traditionally male combat environment (Williams & Relly, 1998). This phenomenon is not, however, uniquely male. Studies (in Kidder & Parks, 2005) have noted negative perceptions by both male and female persons towards females endeavoring to perform traditionally masculine duties.

Empirical data (Seymour & Buscherhof, 1991; Kidder & Parks, 2001) also finds females are perceived as possessing greater altruism than males. This assertion is supported by a wide body of research (Anderson, 1993; Belansky & Bogianno, 1994; Eagly & Wood, 1991). Thus, combat-related duties would appear counterintuitive. Whereas females are stereotypically associated with nurturing and helping behaviors, males are associated with behaviors associated with professions of greater physicality and risk. Kidder and Parks (2001) also suggest, whereas females demonstrate greater externalization and are not adverse to requesting assistance from males and perhaps, to a lesser extent, other females, males are conditioned to internalize concerns and emotions and oppose requesting assistance from females. This conditioning might prove problematic in an exigent or operationally stressful combat environment.


Perhaps the perceived empirical ambiguity and disparity results from the contrite biological definition of gender, rather than a more holistic biopsychosocial model of gender definition suggested by Gilbert (1992). Thus, rather than a question of whether biological gender, in itself, influences psychological contract, then, perhaps the salient questions might be, (a) To what degree does the sociocultural society in which the person was raised value relationships?, and; (b) What are the socioculturally assigned roles of males and females? Chubb, Fertman, and Ross (1997) questioned the influence on adolescent females' sense of self or feelings of a society that values empowerment of society values autonomy and separation versus one that values relationships. The researchers found the two important psychological constructs that influence many aspects of the adolescent's life, including perception, cognition, and behavior, are self-esteem and locus of control.


Harter (1990, p. 225) suggests self-esteem reflects the degree to which a person “likes, accepts, and respects himself [or herself] as a person.” Rosenberg (1985) offers that a person with low self-esteem tend to experience lower life satisfaction and greater external locus of control, anxiety, resentment, irritability, loneliness and depression. Conversely, high self-esteem is associated with increased internal locus of control, professional success, and higher income (Griffore, Kallen, Popovich, & Powell, 1990). Thus, the person with low self-esteem would perceive greater control by others and less power and authority from himself or herself. Conversely, a person with high self-esteem would perceive greater control, power, and authority in relationship to his or her environment.

Locus of control

One of the most widely researched variables in recent cognitive and behavioral research has been locus of control -- the generalized internal and external expectancy of reinforcement (Strickland, 1989). Internal locus of control refers to the expectation that reinforcement is the result of one's own effort, ability, characteristics, or behavior. Alternatively, external locus of control is the expectation that reinforcement results from chance, fate, luck, serendipity or other persons.

While some studies (Cairns, McWhirter, Duffy & Barry, 1990) suggest females have greater external locus of control than males, other studies (Adame, Johnson & Cole, 1989; Dellas & Jernigan, 1987) have not noted significant differences. A study by Chubb, Fertman, and Ross (1997), which sought to explore gender differences in these constructs during high school, for example, did not find a significant difference in locus of control between males and females. These findings support the findings of other researchers (Adame et al., 1989; Archer & Waterman, 1988; Dellas & Jernigan, 1987). Thus, additional research is warranted.

In a study by Pilisuk, Montgomery, Parks, and Acredolo (1993), the researchers found a supportive network and a sense of control tends to build confidence in one's capacity to cope both with external stressors and with illness. The relationship was found to be stronger in males than females. Thus, empirical data regarding the influence of gender on empowerment and locus of control, from which psychological contracts are constructed, is indeterminate.

Violation of psychological contracts

Similar to other forms of schemas, a psychological contract is relatively sacrosanct once established (Rousseau, 2001). As such, it is considered both stable and durable. Psychological contract violation occurs when an employee perceives that the organization has failed to fulfill one or more of subjective obligations included in the psychological contract (Rousseau & Parks, 1993). Within the military context, violation of the psychological or social contract results in distrust in leadership and the absence of a feeling of group belonging, which are, in turn, associated with psychological distress in combat environments (Steiner & Neuman, 1978). Intrinsic to the violation of a psychological contract in the military context is the perception of locus of control and, therefore, perceived influence, power, and authority the organization and its leadership holds over the individual. Within the military context, these terms are often used without explicit specificity of meaning. For the purposes of this article, power is defined as the potential influence the military and the individual’s chain of command have over a military member’s attitudes and behavior, and the influence the military member has on the attitudes and behavior of others.

Case Study

Researchers exploring psychological contracts focus greatly on the influence of past perceptions (Robinson & Morrison, 2000) in formulation of psychological contracts and expectations for future experiences. The following cases will examine this assertion in relationship to the outcomes of three female soldiers deployed to similar environments.

Kayla Williams

Born in 1976 to an authoritarian mother from an affluent family lineage and an often angry father who she suggests resented her birth, Kayla Williams (2005) asserts the only person she could rely upon during her adolescence was herself. Only one-year of age, Kayla’s parents separated and eventually divorced. During early childhood, Kayla’s mother ensured she attended the finest schools. However, by age nine, financial setbacks began to drastically alter her circumstances. Three years later, feeling like an outcast in public school because of her advanced education, Kayla began wearing combat boots and associating with “high school punks and dropouts.” Williams (2005) suggests association with this group gave her an identity. At 13, Kayla ran away from home, finding herself on the streets with a 15-year-old paranoid runaway with a Mohawk.

Finally landing in a house with neo-Nazi’s, she was found to have a picture of a Black friend. With fear of bodily harm (Williams, 2005), Kayla returned to her mother’s house. A short time later, however, Kayla’s mother forced her to leave after finding evidence she was using drugs. Kayla returned to Kentucky to live with her father. Afraid he too would make her leave, Kayla began to conform to rules, graduated high school, and enrolled in college. Overwhelmed, however, Kayla dropped out of college in her first year.

Working as a secretary, Kayla began feeling rejected by her heroin-using friends. Kayla relates in her book (Williams, 2005) about sexism, discrimination, and domestic violence even among her punk friends. However, she did not succumb to peer pressure. Rather, Kayla relied upon self-sufficiency, internal locus of control, and high conscientiousness personality facets. Determined to rise above adversity, Kayla enrolled Bowling Green State University at age 20, from which she graduated cum laude. At 22, the self-reliant Kayla was employed by a public television cooperative and owned her own house. Feeling the need for personal growth, however, Kayla joined the Army in 2000.

Because of Kayla’s demonstrated aptitude for foreign languages, she was sent to the Defense Language Institute in 2000 for an intense indoctrination in the Arabic language, graduating in February 2002. In February 2003, Kayla’s unit was deployed to Iraq as a forward-deployed signals intelligence (SIGINT) specialist. Throughout her book (Williams, 2005), Kayla describes the trauma and stress associated with deployment in remote Iraq. She describes in graphic detail the cognitive dissonance associated with balancing the need to perform military duties and the difficulties associated with being a female in a male-dominant environment under the extremes of risk, operational stress, and tedium -- an environment in which females are often viewed as a highly desirable commodity in an environment of male machismo. Williams (2005) embodies the female desire to assimilate into the group seen as fundamental to personal survival. She elucidates well an environment in which male and female hormones surge under operational stress in a constrained environment. Kayla also conceptualizes the psychological contract under which male and female soldiers operate in country – very different from the preconceived psychological contract. Williams’ (2005) book also well elucidates the evolution of her psychological contract throughout her deployment. In the final chapter of her book, Williams (2005, p.279) recalled, “In Iraq, I figured out there was no option for me to do anything but push myself…and keep pushing.” On February 8, 2004, Williams returned from deployment, converting her journal into an award-winning book about being a female in Iraq, Love my rifle more than you (Williams, 2005).

Alyssa Peterson

On Sept. 15, 2003, Army Specialist Alyssa Peterson, 27, an Arabic-speaking Human Intelligence (HUMINT) Collector and devout Mormon, committed suicide at Tal-Afar in northwest Iraq near the Syrian border after objecting to interrogation techniques used on prisoners and refusing to go to work for 2 days. Coworkers offer that she vehemently objected to the aggressive interrogation practices used -- practices quite different from those she had learned at Fort Huachuca.

After objecting to her supervisors, Alyssa was assigned to supervise Iraqi guards. However, there, too, Williams experienced cognitive dissonance as she was repeatedly counseled not to reveal that she spoke or even understood Arabic. The altruistic Peterson became noticeably silent and withdrawn; however, she was not placed on suicide watch. During this period, Peterson’s unit was required to attend mandatory combat stress and suicide prevention training. In her final note, Peterson suggested it was ironic that the training she received for suicide prevention would provide her with the information she needed to take her own life.

Prior to entering the Army, Peterson had earned a Bachelor of Science in psychology and had attended the Flagstaff Institute of Religion, a theological training institute for Mormons. Her professors offer, while there, Williams appeared to be a highly intelligent person who frequently questioned life in relationship to religion. In the 1998, after completing three years of undergraduate course work, Peterson, then 21, insisted on performing missionary work for 18 months in the Netherlands. In the process, Peterson mastered Dutch. Simultaneously, Peterson cared for the grandparents of Sergeant First Class Denis Colbert of Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Colbert offered that Peterson questioned him at length about questions about the life in the Army, and the duties of an Army linguist. Alyssa returned to Flagstaff in 2000 to complete her final year at Northern Arizona University. In 2001, Colbert was surprised to see Peterson sitting in one of his interrogator instruction classes at Fort Huachuca. Following graduation, Peterson volunteered to exchange assignments a fellow soldier who did not want to go to Iraq.

On the Fallen Heroes message board on the Internet, fellow service members who knew Alyssa offer that she was “an inspiration.” During the 16-month course of instruction to learn Arabic, she persevered through persevered through setbacks, discouragements, and disappointments. Some suggest the most memorable and inspirational component of Alyssa's character was her faith in God.

Fellow soldiers acquainted with Alyssa in Iraq (U.S. Army, 2003) suggest she had a difficult time separating her personal feelings and beliefs, from her professional duties. It is clearly impossible at this point to obtain a personality profile, such as the NEO-PI-R. However, by the accounts of those soldiers who knew Peterson, she would have been expected to score highly on the Openness, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness scales; especially warmth, positive-emotions, aesthetics, feelings, ideas, values, trust, altruism, modesty, tender-mindedness, competence, order, dutifulness, achievement striving, self-discipline, and deliberation, by the accounts given by those who knew her. Peterson’s experiences in Iraq would be contrary to her established morals, ethics, and values, which might be expected to result in anxiety, stress, and depression. Ultimately, cognitive dissonance proved greater that her biopsychosocial resources.

Lynndie England

Specialist Lynndie England served in the 372nd Military Police Company and has become arguably the most infamous of the Army reservists convicted of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Her notoriety demonstrates well the significance of gender role when women are evaluated in a male-dominated environment or vice-versa. England, born on November 8, 1982 in Ashland, Kentucky, was found guilty of inflicting sexual, physical, and psychological abuse on Iraqi prisoners of war and became the poster child of the Abu Ghraib scandal by posing for a photograph while holding a leash attached to the neck of naked Iraqi. On September 26, 2005, England was convicted of one count of conspiracy, four counts of maltreating detainees and one count of committing an indecent act. She was acquitted on a second count of conspiracy. England was sentenced to three years for her crimes and given a dishonorable discharge. She is now serving at the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar in San Diego.

The daughter of a railroad worker, Lynndie England grew up in a trailer on a dirt road behind a saloon and near a sheep farm in Fort Ashby, West Virginia, a small town approximately 13 miles south of Cumberland. In school, the diminutive England was known for wearing camouflage fatigues and combat boots. After graduating from Frankfort High School in 2001, she worked as a cashier in an IGA grocery store and later at a Pilgrim’s Pride chicken processing factory. However, England quit Pilgrim’s Pride in protest of ethics and code violations.

To broaden her horizons, England joined the Army Reserves at age 17 in 2001. In 2002, England married a fellow IGA coworker. While at Fort Lee, England met fellow reservist Specialist Charles Graner, 15 years her senior. During her Court-Martial, the defense described England as a quiet girl, not knowing anyone at the Reserve Center before meeting Graner, who was gregarious and assertive. The shy England finally felt as though someone was paying attention to her. Smitten, England divorced her first husband and became engaged to Graner.

England’s mother offers that her first impressions of Graner were filled with concern regarding his arrogance and foul attitude. She suggests her daughter was totally dominated by him and she dutifully complied with all of his commands regardless how perverted of demeaning. She also offers that Graner was obsessed with capturing each of these events on film, which would lead to the downfall of himself and others.

In June 2003, a group of about 20 soldiers, including England and Graner, were sent to Iraq. During a period of intense insurgent activity in October 2003, the unit was sent to Abu Ghraib. During the day, snipers took aim at the guards. At night, insurgents launched mortar attacks. The guards, unable to communicate with the prisoners, were confronted by defiant acts and chanting. Not assigned to Tier 1A, England’s defense counsel argued she would frequently visit the area to visit Graner for support, during which he would induce her to participate in the acts photographed. During the course of the deployment, England became pregnant with Graner’s child. After the news broke regarding the Abu Ghraib abuse, she was returned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, five months pregnant.

During England’s court martial, the prosecution described Lynndie as exhilarated with the abusive behavior. However, a psychologist for the defense described her as being overly compliant. The defense suggested she was a fearful small-town girl who found herself in a place surrounded by violence and infatuated with a volatile, manipulative sociopath who she relied on as her protector. England repeatedly argued that she was instructed by persons in higher ranks to commit the acts of abuse for pschological reasons. The defense offered during the court martial that England, too, felt confused when the chain of command approved the abusive actions.

Lynndie England embodies the complexity and multiplicity of psychological contracts. Exploited by Graner prior to deployment, male dominance became the norm by which England formed her psychological contract. In a threatening male-dominant environment, surrounded by Arabic males with whom she could not communicate, but had been advised were the worst criminals in Iraq, England embodies the very essence of the study of gang psychology (Brehm, Kassin, & Fein, 2005), in which members relinquish individual schemas in favor of group schemas to increase the probability of survival. In the biopsychosocial context, adoption of group schema occurs with a high degree of automaticity to reduce cognitive dissonance and stress.


The psychological contract appears to operate as a biopsychosocial set point, in which a person operates on a continuum from elation to depression dependent upon how he or she sees, thinks, feels, and reacts to his or her situation. The prevailing assertion is that, over the long-term, individuals tend to seek equilibrium -- a natural state of wellbeing. However, short-term wellbeing is largely the response to environmental influences. In analysis of two large-scale studies, Lucas (2007) found emotional equilibrium is greatly affected by life’s stressful challenges. Lucas (2007) suggests the degree to which people return to equilibrium, and the time required to return to equilibrium is greatly influenced by the significant event itself. For example, the average time required to return to relative equilibrium because of a death of a loved one is seven years. However, divorce and loss of employment often leave a person permanently scarred. It is suggested, the reason for the disparity in extent and time is because of the individual’s perceived external locus of control over the outcome of the event, loss of self-esteem (i.e., inability to meet and maintain perceived expectations), and perception of psychological betrayal (both of himself, herself and others involved).

Lucas (2007) suggests the results of two large-scale studies suggest, “Although happiness levels are moderately stable over time, this stability does not preclude large and lasting changes.” Further, Lucas (2007) suggests, “happiness levels do change, adaptation is not inevitable, and life events do matter.” A person confronted by violations of his or her psychological contract either reframes his or her perceptions, adjusts his or her expectations, changes his or her schemas and mental model, or remains inextricably mired in misery (Diener, Lucas, & Scollon, 2006; Young, 1990, 1999). The influence of psychological contract violation is evident in the cases of Kayla Williams, Alyssa Peterson, and Lynndie England.

Future Directions

Sophisticated methodologies should be developed to assess how psychological contract influences adaptation to an exigent male-oriented environment to develop a clear gender-specific picture of the psychological contracts and the violations to which people can and cannot adapt. Lucas (2007) suggests adaptation might be physiological and psychological. Physiological adaptation might be to reduce the psycho-emotional response to the offending stimulus or stimuli. Psychological response might be to reframe the perspective of events that have one’s life. It is suggested, however, that adaptation might be physiological, psychological, or sociological or a combination of all three realms; this redefining the nature of one’s relationship to others as a means of adaptation. Future research should then strive for greater understanding of the processes that underlie hedonic adaptation of the psychological contract as a venue to more adaptive coping strategies.

Finally, researchers and clinicians (Young, 1990, 1999; Scaer, 2005) have found that, consistent with the perception of reality, coping strategies are individual specific and rely greatly upon the individually assigned support system. To the extent of a person’s perception of locus of control, he or she relies upon the support and assistance of others. The empirical data resulting for the previous recommendations should lead to a Department of Defense (DOD)-sponsored effort to proactively amplify adaptive thoughts, feelings, and behavior and attenuate factors found to be foundational to maladaptive psychological contracts, thereby fostering adaptive coping strategies.

Suggested Assessment Methodologies

Psychological contracts are conceptualized to be beliefs people hold regarding the terms and conditions of the exchange agreement between himself or herself and the organization (Rousseau, 1989, 1995; Millward & Brewerton, 2000; Shore & Tetrick, 1994). Thus, the psychological contract is a highly individualized perception of the verbal promises made between a person and the organization for which he or she is accountable. Robinson and Morrison (2000) conceptualize a five-question instrument to operationalize psychological contract breach. Representative statements of potential concern are: “Almost all of the promises by my employer during recruitment have been kept so far”, “So far, my employer has done an excellent job of fulfilling its promises made to me”, “I feel betrayed by my organization”, “I feel that my organization has violated the contract between us”, and “I feel extremely frustrated by how I have been treated by my organization.” The participant responds using a seven-point Likert-like scale from “Strongly agree” to “Strongly disagree.”

As a point of entry, researchers (Rousseau, 1989, 1995; DeVos, Buyens, & Schalk, 2003) argue the psychological contract provides a point of debarkation for people to actively interpret new experiences, form expectations, and make predictions or prognostications. Alterations in the psychological contract at specific points along the continuum from entry to a point six-months to a year from entry (Rousseau, 1989, 1995). Rousseau (1989, 1995) suggests this initial period of organizational entry and socialization is characterized by sense-making, in which the person comes to interpret, understand, and respond to his or her new employment environment. DeVos et al. (2003) suggests the sense-making process is critical to the development of attitudes and behaviors (Bauer, Morrison, & Callister, 1998; Morrison, 1993a, 1993b; Saks & Ashforth, 2000). The importance of sense-making is directly correlated to the degree of uncertainty. During the socialization period, knowledge gained from experience results in contract and expectation revisions (Rousseau, 1989, 1995, 2001; Shore & Tetrick, 1994).

DeVos et al. (2005) suggests the divergence of experiences versus expectations might even reach a level of reality shock; during which, strategic coping strategies assume greater importance to accommodate the cognitive dissonance associated with the divergence between perceived promises, expectations, and interpretation of new experiences. The outcome of the sense-making period, then, helps a person align his or her expectations in line with reality, which, in turn, potentially reduces feelings of broken promises and unmet expectations. The process of psychological contract revision is, then, analogous to the schematic processes of accretation, tuning, and restructuring.

Thomas and Anderson (1998) found British recruits increased expectations of job security, social and leisure time, effect on the family and accommodation within eight weeks of entry into the military. Rousseau (1995, 2001) and DeVos et al. (2005) argue the person undergoes a process of schematic revision six months to a year from the point of entry. Therefore, the points of survey should be: (a) immediately prior to deployment; (b) eight to twelve weeks following deployment commencement, and; (c) upon return from deployment, which should optimally be 12 months after commencement of deployment.

In a longitudinal study investigating the development of psychological contract breach and violation, Robinson and Morrison (2000) put forth 11 hypotheses. Of these, five were supported and are considered salient to understanding psychological contract breach and violation in the military context, including: (a) Perceived contract breach will be more likely to the extent the organization’s performance has declined or fallen short of the person’s expectations; (b) Perceived contract breach will be less likely to the extent the employee experienced a formalized socialization process; (c) Perceived contract breach will be less likely to the extent the employee interacted with representatives of the organization prior to being hired; (d) Perceived contract breach will be more likely to the extent that the employee has a history of perceived contract breach in past relationships, and; (e) Perceived contract breach will be more likely to the extent that the employee had employment alternatives at the time of hire.

Variables of interest would include gender, age, and number of previous deployments, personality traits, prior trauma, guilt, and locus of control. Additional research might include PTSD assessment to correlate psychological contract violation, betrayal trauma, and PTSD.


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