Antarctic challenge

Ella Rhodes reports.

An intrepid psychologist is taking part in an Antarctic expedition to carry out research into coping in extreme environments. Nathan Smith (University of Northampton) will join a group of 24 others in March as part of the Leadership on the Edge programme led by famous explorer Robert Swann.

Dr Smith, a lecturer in sports psychology, will be embarking on the 2041 International Antarctic Expedition, which sets sail from the Argentinian port of Ushuaia – a town nicknamed ‘The End of the World’. The 24 expedition members will spend more than two weeks together, in sub-zero temperatures that can get as low as –25C. The expedition group will sail across the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula where they will disembark at several points along the coast.

The international group will be assessed on a number of psychological factors by Smith. Prior to the expedition participants will fill out surveys assessing personality, personal values, motivations to participate and typical coping strategies used in challenging situations. Smith said: ‘There has been a good deal of research on personality in extreme conditions. Professors Peter Suedfeld, Lawrence Palinkas, Gro Sandal – who is involved in this project – and Gloria Leon amongst others, have consistently examined personal factors in different types of expedition groups. This has led to a good understanding of the type of person who performs well in such conditions. However, most of this research is conducted with trained people, such as full time expedition-goers, military personnel and astronauts. In the present study, we are interested in the profile of a civilian international expedition group.’

During the trip, participants will be asked to complete a brief daily expedition diary and contribute to a video-diary at the end of each week. Smith will use this to examine changes in emotions during the expedition, and how members have coped with the stressors faced and group interactions and tensions. Smith added: ‘Given the work that has come before, I would expect most participants to provide a positive account of their experience during this short-duration expedition and report growth on return to everyday life. I am particularly looking forward to collecting data on group functioning during the expedition to better understand how the diverse group members operate when faced with challenging situations.’

The programme aims to educate future world leaders on the benefits of protecting the natural world, and the importance of developing resilient people and communities. Smith is hoping to raise £5000 towards the cost of his research activities . 

For more on ‘psychology at the end of the world’, see https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-24/edition-1/psychology-end-world

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