Soldiers of Character

Project Overview

The Soldiers of Character research report was published on 3rd October 2018 and launched at the Royal United Services Institute, London. Complementing work by the Jubilee Centre about virtues in professional practice and public service, this report presents the findings of a rare empirical study of over 240 junior British Army officers from twelve branches of service.

In addition to developing a measure of ethical reasoning in a British Army context, the report explores the following with respect to three levels of junior Army officers:

  • ethical reasoning involving British Army values of courage, respect for others, integrity and loyalty;
  • self-reports of the officers’ most and least dominant character strengths; and
  • the relationship between the officers’ responses to military moral dilemmas and their self-reported character strengths, as well as to questions asked during interview about British Army values.


Summary of Key Findings

  • Overall, junior officers were well aligned with stated British Army Values and Standards; the values of integrity, discipline, courage, selfless commitment, loyalty, and respect for others (Army, 2018).
  • Gender differences for this study were less marked than generally found in other studies using moral dilemmas. Junior officers, regardless of gender, were found to embrace the British Army values.
  • Participants performed ‘better’ when responding to dilemmas that were not aggressive towards prisoners and did not involve covering up failings of soldiers under pressure from higher command; this was in comparison to dilemmas that asked participants to balance compassion for others with mission objectives, and the appropriate application of Army fraternisation policy.
  • Responses to the dilemmas showed higher scores for identifying worst action choices, suggestive of a possible overemphasis on avoiding risk. Scores for identifying reasons for actions also lagged slightly behind scores for choosing appropriate actions to take.
  • Results showed that moral dilemma scores were lowest in the period following professional training and education at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst1 (RMAS) for infantry and artillery officers as compared to other branches of service. This finding suggests that the nature of an officer’s early experience may influence the application of Army values at the onset of one’s career.

The new measure of ethical reasoning – developed as part of this research – has support, but findings need now to be corroborated by a larger representative sample.

Project Summary

Project Overview

Together with piloting new measures, the Soldiers of Character research has investigated how far junior officers display and aspire to personal characteristics described in the Army Values and Standards Guide. It has investigated a broader range of character strengths among all ranks from the perspective of junior officers.

Read our Virtue Insight blog, introducing the project. 

The British Army has always sought to improve the way it develops character in its personnel. Army officers are key upholders of ethical and professional standards in the profession. This study will provide an overview of how Army Values and Standards feature in the professional lives of junior officers. The research will also develop a valid and reliable measure of moral judgement for this rank group. The successful development of such a measure will have a significant and long lasting impact because the Army wants to use this measure to identify gaps in moral judgement among junior officers in order to inform some of their training programmes.

Read our blog on ‘Saluting military courage on the 100th anniversary of The Battle of the Somme


The research design was inter-disciplinary, drawing on the disciplines of philosophy, psychology and sociology. A combination of three methods will be used: moral dilemmas (Intermediate Concept Measure Army (UK)), a self-report measure (Values in Action-Inventory of Strengths-E1) and semi-structured interviews. A key aim of this study was to test and develop component research measures, especially the ICM Army (UK).

Literature Review & Findings

Character, virtue and ethical decision making have been the focus of a number of recent empirical studies in military contexts. The most extensive research of this kind is available in Canada with the Defence Ethics Survey, administered in multiple years since 1999. More generally, the literature suggests that the British Army is at a crucial historical juncture in terms of character. For instance, there have been more than two decades of challenging conflicts, a Revolution of Military Affairs (swift advancements in technological development); increasing pressures from the realities of asymmetric warfare (where ethical standards are different between opposing forces), rapidly changing military roles and some disturbing examples of moral failure among international forces.

Project Milestones

The research has been completed and submitted to the Ministry of Defence for approval.