Case Studies

Training Military Personnel to Be “Good Strangers”

The very first ShadowBox effort was to develop scenario-based training for military personnel to improve civilian interactions.

Domain: Military

Focus: Soft skills; De-escalation


Develop fast and efficient strategies for teaching warfighters the necessary social skills to work with civilians. We designed and delivered four scenarios focused on gaining civilian cooperation and building trust rather than relying on coercion.


Our team developed four ShadowBox scenarios based on military–civilian
interpersonal encounters. We deployed the training with officers in the US Army and
Marines using two formats: paper/pen and mobile application. We found that in a
relatively short period of training (less than 3 hours), the groups that received expert
feedback demonstrated significant improvements measured by how closely their
responses matched with the expert responses.


89 participants across the Army and Marines received the novel ShadowBox training. These results suggest that it is possible to train cognitive skills in a reasonably short amount of time and in a way that can scale up.

Background and Description

The DARPA Strategic Social Interaction Modules (SSIM) program sought to identify and train the social interactions skills warfighters need to affect successful outcomes in social encounters with strangers in unfamiliar and hostile environments. Rather than focusing on specific skills, MacroCognition LLC developed ShadowBox training exercises with the aim to modify the warfighter’s professional identify (i.e. mindset) so they could employ a “Good Stranger” frame when situational demands called for it. We evaluated the ShadowBox training exercises in two separate studies. The first study provided three hours of training (4 scenarios) to Marines and resulted in 28% improvement compared to a control group that received the training but without receiving expert feedback after each decision point (a feature of the ShadowBox method). The second study provided one hour of training, administered via Android tablet with Army officers. Their performance improved by 21% over the course of the training. These results suggest that ShadowBox training can be an effective way to develop cognitive skills in the military.