Introduction: In many units in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), soldiers are required
by their position to maintain the secrecy of certain classified information. This
study aimed to examine the association between personality traits and mental
distress following exposure to classified information.
Methods: The study population included 27 male soldiers in active service in
a classified Air Force unit, who by the nature of their position are required to
maintain secrecy. The study examined personality traits using the NEO Personality
Inventory-Revised questionnaire (NEO PI-R). Mental distress was assessed using
the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory for anxiety, the Beck Depression Inventory for
depression, the Mental Health Inventory (MHI) for general well-being, and the
Patient Health Questionnaire for somatization. An additional questionnaire, which
was created specifically for the present study and examines the distress and
discomfort of keeping the secrecy of classified information, was also used.
Results: Findings show that after the secret-keeping requirement was imposed
on participants, the lower the levels of a participant’s NEO PI-R facets of
“conscientiousness” and “agreeableness”, the worse the mood he reported. The
soldiers with low levels of these facets were also more preoccupied with the
idea of knowing the secret and the obligation to keep it to themselves. Additional
findings demonstrated that the more introverted an individual, the more difficulty
he experiences in keeping the secret from friends and family who are not privy to
it. In mandatory polygraph tests administered routinely to these soldiers, it was
revealed that the more neurotic the soldier’s personality, the more he fears the
polygraph tests. Similarly, the higher the level of neuroticism, the more difficult it
is to keep the secret. Finally, it was found that the lower the level of the “openness
to experience” facet, the stronger the sense of loneliness.
This study found an association in soldiers between personality traits, distress,
and the requirement to maintain a secret. Additionally, an association was found
between secret-keeping and symptoms of distress, anxiety and depression.
Limitations – the small sample size and the invalidity of the questionnaire on
distress and discomfort of keeping the secrecy of classified information, limited
the establishment of causal relationships.
Keywords: classified information, secret, soldiers, depression, anxiety, personality traits.