Experiencing Extreme Environments: The Human Mind Beyond 66° North

Lead Author Anna G. M., Temp
Institution Contact 1) The University of Edinburgh, Office G14/15 Psychology Department 7 George Square EH8 9JZ secondary affiliation: 2) ul. Księcia Janusza 64 01-452 Warszawa Polska
Co-Authors Dr Billy Lee, University of Edinburgh, Scotland Dr Thomas H. Bak, University of Edinburgh, Scotland
Theme Theme 4: Building Long-term Human Capacity
Session Name 4.4 Circumpolar Health and Well-Being
Presentation Type Poster
Abstract text With of up to six months of complete darkness, it is unsurprising that cognition is affected in those who spend a year in the polar region: sustained attention, reasoning skills, processing speed and memory have all been shown to change. So far, most of this research has been conducted in Antarctica. The Arctic poses additional stressors, such as polar bears, which make it dangerous to leave the station alone; and lacks research in this domain. The Polish Polar Station (PPS), Hornsund, Svalbard experiences polar night from October to February and its crew is isolated during this time; making it an ideal Arctic analogue for Antarctic cognitive research. Results may be generalised to other non-native winterers in any Arctic nation and inform crew selection for any isolated and confined environment.
The present study runs from summer 2015 to summer 2016. Ten crew members of PPS are participating. Testing points were/are July and September 2015, January, April and June 2016. Tests selected include the Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART), Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrices (SPM), Test of Everyday Attention (TEA), and Figure Learning & Memory Test (FLMT).
Cognitive changes related to mental health, not season. For each point in POMS confusion in July, the accuracy in the January TEA increased by 1.24% (R2=0.57, F(1,9)=10.79, p<.05). Lower confusion predicted lower accuracy. For each point in September depression, winter reaction time (WRT) sped up by 6.24ms (R2=0.59, F(1,9)=11.7, p<.01). July hostility decreased WRT by 11.89ms per point (R2=0.6, F(1,9)=11.81, p<.01), while September hostility sped it up by 9.9ms (R2=0.75, F(1,9)=24.28, p<.01). The more hostile and depressed the participants were, the faster were their WRT. Depression, confusion and cognition did not change seasonally, but hostility did; suggesting that seasons had little direct effect on mental health and cognition. Mental health may influence cognition more strongly.