Competence and Self-Control under Psychological Stress,

Personnel Selection Tests for the Office of Strategic Services

     Psychologist Robert Dippner, PhD, University of Nevada at Las Vegas, provided the following account of two psychological personnel-selection methods for candidates for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).  The OSS was a World War II U.S. Army intelligence service, famous for high-risk, innovative, and unsavory operations (Moon, 1991).  The OSS evolved into the Central Intelligence Agency in 1947.   Dippner (2009) wrote:

I was introduced to experimental psychology, and decided to make that my profession, by a professor, Ralph T. Granneberg [1913-1994], at the Community College of San Francisco. My first course in Introductory Psychology was taught by Granneberg. I believe this was the Fall of 1958. I remember two lectures about his experience while working for the OSS. I believe that his experience took place during WWII.

[Deep-pit personnel-selection test.]  He described a personnel selection procedure in which three people were placed in a hole in the ground about ten feet deep and they were instructed to find a way to get out of the hole. I understood that one of the three people was a potential candidate to become a spy for our country. The other two people, person A and person B, were given the job of ensuring that the candidate did not get out of the hole. The candidate suggested that they could form a human ladder. Person B could stand on the shoulders of person A and the candidate could climb out and pull person B out, and then they could find a rope or a branch to pull person A out. As the candidate starts to climb out, person A gets a cramp in his leg and the ladder collapses. The test was to find out how many leg cramps it would take to get the candidate to start screaming.

[Hallway-doors personnel-selection test.]  The second experiment that I remember from his lectures was about search patterns for a candidate. The candidate was placed in a hallway with a number of doors on each side and was instructed to find an open door. We find the same test on day two; now the question is, “Does the candidate go to the door that he found open on the previous day or does he start a new search pattern?” Now on day three we make the hallway more interesting by placing the candidate in a bathing suit and turning on the sprinklers in the ceiling which spray freezing water on the candidate. On day four the floor is electrified and the sprinklers are on and we observe the search pattern of the candidate. If he grabs a doorknob and plants both feet against the door we would not be surprised.

I stayed in contact with Ralph during my two years at San Francisco State and while in graduate school and for several years thereafter.  I believe that Ralph finished his doctoral degree at Stanford at the same time that Lloyd Humphreys [1913-2003] did [PhD, Stanford University, 1938] and that both worked for the OSS during the war.  I also remember that Ralph had said that he worked on the production of propaganda at that time, producing slogans like “Help Uncle Sam, Buy War Bonds”

Dippner, Ronald, & Arrigo, Jean Maria.  (2009).  Correspondence concerning  Ralph T. Granneberg’s

     psychological-stress personnel selection methods for the Office of Strategic Services in World

     War II.  Intelligence Ethics Collection, Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University, Stanford,

     CA.  [To be deposited 2010].

Moon, Tom.  (1991).  This grim and savage game:  OSS and the beginning of U.S. covert operations

     in World War II.  Los Angeles, CA:  Burning Gate Press.