STRESS IN SPACE
Helping NASA to prepare astronauts for future space explorations
With collaborators ranging from NASA to the department of Defense, the Social and Organizational Psychology Creative Inquiry has a history of working with some of the nation’s largest organizations. Led by Dr. Thomas Britt, professor in the Department of Psychology, the team specializes in stress management, motivation and the relationships between an individual and a group. While the team is small in numbers, their advances in the realm of social and organizational psychology have large impacts in various fields. During the past four years, the team was involved in a large project funded by the Department of Defense which involved the development of unit training to support soldiers in need of mental health treatment. The training the Creative Inquiry team developed resulted in an increase in supportive behaviors toward fellow unit members experiencing mental health problems.
One of their most recent projects, in collaboration with NASA, dealt with the concept of meaningful work during long duration space exploration missions. As NASA looks to prepare astronauts for future missions to Mars, a major concern is keeping the astronauts occupied and interested in their work. Britt and his Creative Inquiry team investigated how astronauts perceive their work and what factors lead to stress reduction in space.
“My biggest takeaway from this team is the amount of relevant, hands-on experience I have gotten in the field. I have had the opportunity to work on several big projects, all of which have been very beneficial to me as I prepare for a career in a research-oriented field,” Stephanie Jeffirs, senior psychology major, explained.
“My biggest takeaway from this team is the amount of relevant, hands-on experience I have gotten in the field.”
Comprised of a nearly equal ratio of graduate students to undergraduates, this project also provides a mentoring aspect that enhances student studies. As graduate students provide undergraduates with the resources and experience to succeed, the undergraduates provide the graduate students with fresh ideas and assistance on projects. Kristen Jennings, Ph.D. candidate in psychology, described, “Seeing undergraduates getting involved in research is one of the best aspects of this Creative Inquiry. The collaborations we have between graduate and undergraduate students have been beneficial and rewarding to everyone and very rewarding.” Britt also feels a major advantage of this Creative Inquiry is the real-world research experience. “I have had the pleasure of having my Creative Inquiry team for all of my 15 years at Clemson University. One of the most rewarding parts of being a professor is seeing undergraduate students get excited about research and using their experiences to get in the graduate school of their choice or to land the job they desire,” Britt said.
In a world full of anxiety, motivation and social interactions, Britt’s Creative Inquiry team works continuously to shine light on various issues at the intersection of social, clinical and organizational psychology. Collaborating with large organizations allows the team to translate research directly to the workplace. Understanding how humans react to different situations and the factors that influence behavior will continue to be the foundation for the research done by this team. In the future, the team hopes to be involved in the tailoring of stress management interventions for astronauts participating in long duration missions.