Social Psychology, Personality and Neurocognitive Studies During a Mars Base Simulation

Dr Steven J Dawson.

Australian National University

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Introduction

During Expedition One a range of psychological measures, informal observation, crew discussion and other means were used to collect information about crew psychological issues. The overall goal of the psychological studies was to gain insight into crew individual and group issues that may be relevant to a human mission to Mars or other prolonged human spaceflight. Another goal was to gather information relevant to improved functioning for future MDRS crews. Most of the comments below relate to Phases III and IV, when the majority of data collection took place, but some is relevant to the entire mission. .

A major focus of the psychological studies was the exploration of group and sub-group identification, group goals and the alignment of goals and group and personal functioning (e.g., well-being, stress). The relationship between group and personal functioning as revealed in neurocognitive measures is of particular interest as is the impact on group functioning of personality factors.

The purpose of the current document is to summarise the measures used, impressions regarding outcomes of the studies and recommendations/implications for the future.

 

Methodology

Social Psychological Measures
All crew members completed a questionnaire entitled 'Personal and Group Functioning Survey'. This instrument was developed by social psychologists Dr Kate Reynolds and Dr Rachael Eggins at the School of Psychology, Australian National University. It is based on an extensive literature and research on issues of group identity and goal alignment conducted by the Social Psychology Research Unit at ANU. It aims to help determine the extent to which crew members on ExOne identified with ExOne overall as well as with it's subgroups such as Field Science and Mission Systems. In turn it aims to measure the degree to which crewmembers aligned their personal goals with the overall ExOne group and it's subgroups. Crewmembers in Phases III and IV completed the questionnaire three times each week, while crewmembers in Phases I and II completed the questionnaire at the end of their stay at MRDS.

Neurocognitive Measures
All crewmembers also completed a brief, computerised measure of cognitive performance called CogState. This measure was developed by a team of neuropsychology researchers in Melbourne (now incorporated as CogState: see cogstate.com) who sought to provide sensitive measures of changes in neurocognitive status. Crewmembers in Phases I and II completed CogState one or more times while those in phases III and IV completed it several times per week. Data is being analysed as a separate neuropsychological study as well being incorporated into the social psychology study.

Personality Measures
To supplement measures of group and individual function, all crewmembers from Phases III and IV completed the AstroPCI personality battery. Assoc. Prof. Sheryl Bishop of University of Texas Medical Branch provided the personality measures and is currently collaborating on data analysis and interpretation.

Results

While results are not yet to hand, informal observation suggested that group identification was indeed a significant factor in both individual and group performance in this simulated Mars base environment. Observation suggested that the extensive planning and group communication prior to Expedition One resulted in an unusual level of shared group identity in crewmembers with resulting high levels of achievement of both group and individual goals. Observation during neurocognitive measures suggested that group identification may have impacted cognitive performance but that other factors such as amount of sleep and workload were also significant. Personality of individual crewmembers was observed to markedly impact both group and individual function. In general crewmembers were observed to show a high level of cooperative behaviour in difficult conditions but on occasions friction related to personality differences was observed to disrupt both group cohesion and individual performance.

Analysis

Data analysis is currently in progress to examine the relationship between group identification and a range of outcome variables. In particular, SPSS regression analysis is being undertaken to assess whether those who had a high level of identification (at the sub-group and/or superordinate level) differed in motivation, performance, personal functioning and stress from those who had lower levels of identification. Data from the neurocognitive and personality measures is also under preliminary analysis.

Discussion

The current suite of studies in a relatively high fidelity Mars analogue environment seeks to add to an important and growing body of research on psychological factors relevant to a human Mars mission. A more complete understanding of the issue of group identification by crewmembers and it’s interaction with neurocognitive and personality factors may prove important in planning crew selection and preparation for a future human Mars mission. In particular ongoing research in this area may contribute to a change in emphasis from selection of the most effective individuals to selection and training of the most effective teams.