Medical Technology

  • Current Research
  • Previous Research


Psychosocial Performance Factors in Space-Dwelling Groups

Principal Investigator:
Joseph V. Brady, Ph.D.

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Healthy communication and interaction among astronauts and with the ground crew is vital to the success of extended space missions. Dr. Joseph Brady is developing a multi-person simulation in computer-generated environments to analyze psychosocial interactions, looking at the effects of selection, training, and experience within and between group members. This model will help ensure optimal performance in space and on ground-based activities.

NASA Taskbook Entry

Technical Summary

Despite uncertainties regarding the performance requirements of projected space laboratories, work stations, interplanetary vehicles and settlements beyond the Earths atmosphere, a common feature of spaceflight endeavors over the next half century will be extended stays by human groups in extraterrestrial habitats. The imperatives and opportunities associated with configuring effective psychosocial performance models in support of such space dwelling groups are best served by research approaches that are both heuristic and innovative. The development of functional human and ecological models for such space dwelling groups must, in the first instance, be based upon sound scientific principles with research objectives focused upon the management of semi-permanent as well as permanent groups involved in both operational and space science missions. The research methodology involves development of a distributed interactive multi-person simulation in computer generated environments as an experimental test bed for modeling psychosocial performances within and between space-dwelling and Earth- based groups. The simulation approach provides an automated means of setting the context for the analysis of performance in space-dwelling groups and monitoring electronically the effects of varying experimental conditions that alter psychosocial interactions.

Distributed interactive simulation experiments characterize the effects of variations in the structure and function of communication channels within and between space-dwelling and Earth-based groups as well as the effects of stressful environmental and behavioral interactions upon psychosocial performance effectiveness. Simulation experiments also determine the effects of variations in the appetitive/aversive characteristics of incentive control systems as well as the effects of selection, training, and experience within and between space-dwelling and Earth-based groups. Communication modes, frequencies, durations, and content are recorded and analyzed with performance effectiveness evaluations based upon assigned group task outcome measures. Conceptual and methodological advances that effectively promote psychosocial and ecological stability will ultimately benefit larger societal units, including those that remain Earth-bound, by enhancing an educational and training technology that assures communication of an expanded generalizeable knowledge base. The results of these studies with scenario tasks requiring identification of geologic samples designated by five different rules in each region, showed clearly that cooperative and productive psychosocial interactions could be maintained between individually isolated and dispersed crewmembers in the simulated task environment.

All experimental flight crews actively engaged in communicating and effective problem-solving over extended time intervals without benefit of one anothers physical presence. In addition, the investigations of communication modality constraints indicated that, with the scenarios tested, there was a high degree of interchangeability between the available communication modes. For example, the effect of selectively removing text or audio communication was to increase the number of audio messages somewhat when text was removed, and produce a clear increase in text messaging when audio was removed. The overall performance evaluation however, showed no consistent effect upon crew total grade values of eliminating either text or audio. This suggests a high degree of functional interchangeability between these two communication modalities. Removal of both audio and text however, produced a marked decrease in overall performance effectiveness. Although there was a commensurate increase in the use of whiteboard scribbles, total crew grade values declined to less than half the baseline in the combined absence of audio and text communication modalities.


Earth Applications

Research conducted within the context of distributed interactive simulation models will provide the basis for developing effective patterns of communication and problem-solving strategies as well as a range training procedures to enhance problem solving effectiveness. The Earth-based applications of this research will extend to the small operational group selection and training process as well as the management of stressful interactions and the maintenance of group cohesion and productivity. Not only can the outcome of these studies be expected to have an important impact on safety and the quality of life in many Earth-based applied settings, but larger societal units will ultimately benefit from the resulting conceptual and methodological advances that effectively promote social and ecological stability while concurrently enhancing an education and training technology that assures effective communication of an expanded, generalizeable knowledge base.

This project's funding ended in 2004