In the summer of 1988 the USS Vincennes, an Aegis guided-missile cruiser, was patrolling in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war. While on this patrol the ship’s officers reported to their commander that an Iranian plane was heading toward them and were not heeding warnings to turn back. The tension created by the situation intensified and within a short time, with eyewitnesses aboard the Vincennes reporting they were under attack , the commander of “The Vincennes” ordered his crew to fire with the result that they shot down the plane. Videotapes subsequently showed that the plane, a 747 passenger plane carrying over two hundred people, was flying an opposite course from “The Vincennes.”

After “The Vincennes” incident a congressional hearing was called to look into how our most technologically advanced ship could have failed so badly that hundreds of innocent people were killed. Cognitive psychologists testified at these hearings that the officers aboard “The Vincennes” had not lied to their commander; rather they were reporting what they believed to be the case. The psychologists described how the mind takes in information through thought templates that have, in effect, a pre-programmed response to stimuli. For this reason thought templates (or schemas) have been referred to in the literature as “expectancies” since to a large degree they receive information according to what they expect to occur in a given situation. Through the process of “assimilation” and “accommodation” they can change, but in immediate situations one’s thinking is limited by these schemas. The psychologists referred as well to “reactive stress” which refers to the mind’s tendency to alter situations when under great stress. The point is, these schemas, not reality, are apt to significantly affect what we see.

Additional analysis, however, of the Vincennes incident suggested that the ship’s commander was prone to acting aggressively suggesting that there is individual variation in degree to which the mind alters reality. So it is difficult to know whether this is a Type Two (bad times) or Type Three (bad people) conflict as that level of detailed information about the commander is unavailable.