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What is Psychological Warfare?

Daniel Liden
Updated Feb 18, 2024
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Psychological warfare, sometimes abbreviated as PSYWAR, describes a set of techniques used to alter an enemy's opinions or state of mind. It is commonly used in warfare to discourage, frighten, or convert enemies. Various psychological methods of warfare have been used throughout history to demoralize enemies with the goal of securing military victory with greater ease and with minimal bloodshed. The term usually refers to large-scale attempts to alter the minds of a large group of enemies, though psychological warfare techniques can also be applied to individuals to accomplish the same objectives on a smaller scale.

Psychological methods of warfare are generally grouped into two main categories. Strategic psychological warfare is aimed at discouraging and altering the opinions of large groups of people, military and nonmilitary, over a significant area and for a long period of time. Tactical psychological warfare, on the other hand, is directed at smaller groups and usually has a precise goal, such as encouraging a small group of enemy soldiers to surrender.

There are many different methods of psychological warfare that are used to accomplish different psychological goals. Some methods are primarily intended to frighten and demoralize enemies through shows of excessive force; these methods are referred to as "shock and awe" warfare. An example of this method involves days of endless bombing that is intended to scare enemies more than to destroy them. Sometimes, loudspeakers are used to project subversive announcements or to play loud and aggressive music also intended to frighten and to dishearten enemies.

Another possible goal of psychological warfare involves prompting enemy soldiers to surrender or to question the motives that drive the enemy soldiers to war in the first place. This often involves the use of propaganda, or information that is intended to alter the opinions or ideals of the enemy. In some cases, propaganda radio stations are established to question enemy beliefs and to encourage them to surrender. Another common method is distributing pamphlets that include arguments against enemy leaders or instructions on how to surrender. Some even promise safety and reward to those who do decide to surrender.

The claims made by various sources of propaganda in psychological warfare may or may not actually be true. Sometimes, they are outright lies intended to convince enemies that the rewards for surrendering are much greater than they actually are or that the enemy force is much more powerful than it actually is. Other forms of propaganda are actually truthful, but they may omit some information or target certain pieces of information to specific religious, ethnic, or political groups. Generally, truthful propaganda tends to be a more useful psychological warfare method, as people often respond with outrage upon discovering that they have been lied to.

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Daniel Liden
By Daniel Liden
Daniel Liden, a talented writer with a passion for cutting-edge topics and data analysis, brings a unique perspective to his work. With a diverse academic background, he crafts compelling content on complex subjects, showcasing his ability to effectively communicate intricate ideas. He is skilled at understanding and connecting with target audiences, making him a valuable contributor.
Discussion Comments
By alex94 — On May 15, 2011

@dega2010- It has been said that psychological warfare has been used as far back as biblical days. This is a wonderful example and is one of my favorite stories. In the book of Judges, a story is told of a judge named Gideon. A battle took place between the Israelites (under Gideon’s leadership) and the Amalakites and Midianites. Gideon started out with 32,000 men but God told Gideon to decrease his army. He ended up with only 300 men.

This is where the psychological warfare comes in. Gideon had every man carry a horn (like a trumpet) and a torch inside of a jar. When they got ready to attack, the men broke their jars to reveal the light of all their torches. This led the enemy to believe that Gideon’s army was very large. The men in the enemy’s army started turning on each other, killing most of their army.

By dega2010 — On May 14, 2011

Can someone give me a specific example of psychological warfare so that I can better understand?

Daniel Liden
Daniel Liden
Daniel Liden, a talented writer with a passion for cutting-edge topics and data analysis, brings a unique perspective to...
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