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Thread: Predicting success of Morse intercept operators (05H)

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Posted: 2020-01-30 07:57
I thought I would summarize the data drawn from a series of declassified studies of 05H, morse intercept operators, to try to elucidate the criteria for success in acquiring morse code proficiency (sources at the end of the post).

Largely because of the high cost involved in training 05H operators, and the very high rate of attrition (ca. 50%, according to Wyant & Creel), the US military tried to identify the characteristics of a good 05H operator to reduce training costs.

These studies are particularly interesting because much of the evidence presented on LCWO in the process of acquiring morse code is anecdotal and leads to the time-honored rejoinder at the end of a rather pointless exchange: "Well, whatever worked for you!"

Granted, several elements of the capacities required to become an 05H operators do not extend to amateur radio operators, since 05H operators typically had to transcribe what they heard on a mill (a typewriter) and weren't expected to understand it; however, others clearly do.

A recently declassified study in the "Cryptologic Quarterly" comparing the capacity understand morse code to that of understanding compressed speech is particularly interesting since it suggests that subjects who are native speakers of poly-syllabic languages (all Indo-European languages) and who train in monosyllabic language, such as Chinese, etc would have a particular edge in acquiring morse code (the mental activity involved in translating from a poly to a mono-syllabic language amounts to converting speech into a compressed language).

Knapp & Carter (1990) interviewed 24 morse instructors (USAISD, INSCOM, etc) to identify the characteristics of successful 05H operators, these were then subsumed in the following list:

Musical Ability - sense of rhythm and timing
Good memory skills
Perceptual motor coordination - ear, eye, keyboard
Outgoing, sociable nature - extraverted
Able to concentrate, develop mind set
Suburban-rural background

These capacities were tested in 104 participants drawn from three different field stations and they found:

1. a strong correlation between morse aptitude and both rhythm and time musical aptitude (unsurprising)

2. strong correlation with digit symbol aptitude (a cognitive test measuring processing speed and working memory)

3. extremely strong extraversion, on par with elicited by salesmen

4. slightly greater than normal changeability

5. lower than normal concentration (measured by the Tellegen test)

They conclude:

"Fleishman's work in the late 1950's indicated that certain musical aptitude and perceptual tests could reliably predict the learning of Morse characters, and time needed to learn certain
groupings and speeds. However, the later studies of the 1960's and 1970's (e.g. Helme and Dubuisson, 1962; Pearson and Kasporenko, 1978; Wyant and Creel, 1982;) which tried to relate
certain basic psychological skill and aptitude test scores to pass rates, found that motivation, attitudes, and other nonacademic factors played a larger role in the attrition equation. A similar phenomenon has emerged in the current study"

This is largely in keeping with the conclusions of Wyant & Creel (1982):

"A discriminant analysis revealed that the audio
digit symbol test, audio perception test, and anxiety, as well as achievement motivation scores formed a factor that was predictive of failure 66% of the time. It is noteworthy that the strongest
loadings for reasons of student failure appeared to be a combination of adaptational and motivational factors, particularly a sense of depression and lack of personal control
in their life."

In other words, psychological factors, not perceptual or cognitive factors, were a predictor of failure in 66% of the cases.


Sources:

1. Beverly G. Knapp and Frances L. Carter:"O5H (Morse Intercept Operator) Performance: An Exploratory Study"

U.S. Army Research Institute, U.S. Army Intelligence School, Fort Devens, February 1990

2. Kerry W. Wyant & Stephen M. Creel: "Predicting Success in Morse Code Training",

in "Military Medicine", Volume 147, Issue 7, July 1982, Pages 564–567

3. "The Use of Compressed Speech in Selecting
Morse Code Operators",

declassified NSA document, "Cryptologic Quarterly", Summer/Fall 1982, Vol. 1 no 2-3











Posted: 2020-01-30 10:13
It's interesting that even the military had a 50% drop-out rate (albeit in a very specialised area of morse - intercept transcription without understanding content).

My limited experience with listening to text converted to morse is that "understanding the content" plays a big part in translating what you're hearing. If you miss a letter or two, sometimes you can guess what the word is. And some words have a pattern to them so you can anticipate what the word is before its finished.

Short term memory (the ability to hold the letters you've already translated in your mind whilst listening to the rest of the letters in the word, then fitting them all together into the word itself) also seems to be a feature of text translation (ie QSOs).

Anyway, it looks like I would never have made it as an O5H operator. Oh, well, back to the practice...


Posted: 2020-01-30 13:29
What I found really striking was that major studies considered the psychological and motivational factor as the most important factor in success.

The other interesting tidbit is the beneficial effect of somewhat lower concentration and this does tie in with my personal experience that one’s mind must be loose and relaxed.

Then, naturally the failure rate was very high, ca 50% of the cases, and that ties in with the huge dropout rate on LCWO.


Posted: 2020-01-30 18:38
When they claim the 65% we have to notice that 50% is no influence at all. (Example 50% of succesfull people start the course on a sunny day and 50% on a rainy day, so the wx on the first day of the course has no influence at all)

Furthermore the military started with an aptitude test for candidates, they show 3 of 4 characters, and asked to decode on paper, with increasing speed.

So only guys with sufficient results could enter the classes.

Musical talent is often mentioned, I do not believe in that, especially not because I and some QRQ friends I know are not musical at all. A correlation will be due to that learning to play an instrument requires perseverance, so people that are musical and are able to play an instrument has a higher probability of success learning Morse code.

Way of living, organisation of society may be of much more influence, when I look at the results of former CCCP sovjet union countries, and the way their transmissions were teasing the western decoders by going over 45 wpm, as K8AXW, a former intercepter, stationed in western Germany, told us.



Posted: 2020-01-31 06:11
Stehpinkler:

Musical talent is often mentioned, I do not believe in that, especially not because I and some QRQ friends I know are not musical at all. A correlation will be due to that learning to play an instrument requires perseverance, so people that are musical and are able to play an instrument has a higher probability of success learning Morse code.


The candidates were tested for 4 components of musical ability, not on whether they actually they played an instrument or not. Only two aspects of musical ability are significant, rhythm and time ability.So, in that test, perseverance has no relation.

Your point regarding the lifestyle and type of society is very cogent. My family is Eastern European, and we were raised very differently from my Western European friends.


My old friends in the former CCCP and Warsaw Pact countries are typically accustomed to much harder lives. When Solzhenitsyn said the West was decadent, he was addressing a real problem.



Posted: 2020-01-31 18:31
Nail on the head.

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