Antarctic Isolation as a Mars Habitat Analogue

A Psychological Perspective

by Jan Felicjan Terelak (Author)
©2021 Monographs 410 Pages


The book is a scientific monograph, based on a natural experiment on cognitive, emotional and social functioning during the year-long isolation of 21 winter hounds at the Henryk Arctowski Polish Antarctic Station. The conducted research was of a specimen and sociometric nature. The results presented in the book are unique in the literature on the subject due to the longitudinal nature of the research conducted, together with its high frequency (every two weeks). Moreover, the social isolation was total in its character, due to the large limitation of connectivity with the outside world, which could be considered analogous to future long-term space missions.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Titel
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • Dedication
  • Preface I
  • Preface II
  • Preface III
  • Introduction
  • Part One: Theoretical Background
  • 1. Man and the Environment
  • 1.1. Main statements of environmental psychology
  • 1.2. Situation as a basic concept of environmental psychology
  • 1.3. The environment as a stimulating system
  • 1.3.1. Neurocerebral concept of activation
  • 1.3.2. Psychological stimulation concept
  • 1.3.3. Individual differences in the need for stimulation
  • 2. Data Sources Concerning The Effects of Sensory Deprivation and Social Isolation
  • 2.1. Taxonomic aspects of data sources
  • 2.2. Phenomenological aspect of data sources based on narrative
  • 2.2.1. Loneliness
  • 2.2.2. Imprisonment as punishment
  • 2.2.3. Incidental isolation
  • 2.2.4. Task isolation
  • 2.3. Experimental aspect of data sources
  • 2.3.1. Laboratory experiments
  • 2.3.2. Quasi laboratory experiment as an analogue of a space habitat
  • Classical habitats
  • Modern Habitats
  • 2.3.3. Experiments under natural conditions
  • Shelters
  • Penthouses
  • Underwater capsules
  • Submarines
  • Spacecraft and orbital stations
  • Long-term Antarctic expeditions as an analogue of Martian habitat
  • Part Two: Own Research
  • 3. Own Research into the Functioning of Humans in Antarctic Isolation
  • 3.1. Theoretical basis for the research
  • 3.2. Stress factors in the Antarctic environment
  • 3.2.1. Physical environment of the Antarctic
  • 3.2.2. Psychological and social environment
  • 3.3. Assumptions of own research
  • 3.3.1. Aim of the research
  • 3.3.2. The issues of own research
  • 4. Methods and Organisation of The Study
  • 4.1. Characteristics of the study site
  • 4.1.1. Physical environment
  • 4.1.2. Logistical problems
  • 4.1.3. Psychological environment
  • 4.2. Selection of individuals for the study and characteristics of the group
  • 4.2.1. Choice and selection process
  • 4.2.2. Characteristics of the persons studied
  • Biodate
  • Motivation
  • Personality
  • 4.2.3. Tasks of the members of the wintering-over group
  • Responsibilities of the technical group
  • Responsibilities of the scientific group
  • 4.3. Measurement techniques and organisation of surveys
  • 5. Transactional Characteristics of the Winter-Over Syndrome
  • 5.1. The stimulative aspect of Antarctic isolation
  • 5.2. The functional aspect of the Antarctic isolation situation
  • 5.2.1. Clinical psychology perspective
  • 5.2.2. The personality perspective
  • Dynamics of neuroticism and extraversion
  • Dynamics of different types of aggression
  • Dynamics of personality changes in selected factors of the 2nd degree Cattell’s 16PF
  • Dynamics of mental needs
  • 5.2.3. Emotional perspective
  • Dynamics of moods
  • Dynamic of anxiety
  • 5.2.4. Cognitive perspective
  • Dynamics of perception of the situation.
  • Dynamics of attitude
  • Dynamics of cognitive performance
  • 5.3. The social aspect of Antarctic isolation
  • 5.3.1. Dynamics of interpersonal attraction
  • 5.3.2. Sociometric structure of group dynamics
  • 5.3.3. Dynamics of territoriality of behaviour
  • 5.3.4. Dynamics of perception of group
  • 5.4. The chronobiological aspect of Antarctic isolation
  • 5.4.1. Photoecological aspects of Antarctic adaptation
  • 5.4.2. Dynamics of circadian rhythm of cognitive functioning
  • 5.4.2. Sleep disturbance
  • 5.5. A medical perspective on the cost of adaptation to Antarctic isolation
  • Conclusion and Findings
  • Post Scriptum
  • References
  • Annex: Some Abbreviations Used in the Text
  • Index of Names

←16 | 17→

Preface II

Isolation of a human being causes certain psychological effects, gives time to think about behaviours, events, experiences, memories. One can be isolated by choice – just like cosmonauts, hermits, polar explorers, or by force – like prisoners, the sick or for quarantine purposes. Polar experiences confirm me in my belief in the psychological changes taking place as a result of a long-term stay in a small isolated group with limited external contacts. Extreme weather conditions, frost, hurricane winds, prolonged darkness of the polar night and continuous day can also be a stress factor. This is well illustrated by the head of the American Antarctic expeditions, Richard E. Byrd: “The uniformity of life and monotony nowhere in the world are as tiring as during a polar winter. When polar night passes, it’s fortunate the man cannot see his inner self in the mirror – he would wipe the glass, thinking it is fogged over.”

I personally experienced this state twice. Fortunately, it is almost reversible – as my relatives claim. Psychological research on isolation was carried out at the H. Arctowski Antarctic station as early as in the 1980s and 1990s and beyond, on spacecraft, by Jan Terelak Many years later, an American team commissioned by NASA and chaired by Professor L. Palinkas for three years conducted surveys at H. Arctowski’s station, and they were also continued at American, Russian, Chinese and Indian stations. The conclusions were about the effects of long-term isolation of people of various cultures and different genders, which may be relevant for future long and distant space flights.

The book by Prof. on stress and social isolation written from the perspective of future interplanetary flights is worth special attention on the eve of the expedition to Mars via the Moon.

Prof. Stanisław Rakusa-Suszczewski

Polar Explorer

←18 | 19→

Preface III

During my eight-day space mission in 1978, I circled the Earth sixteen times a day. Time was scrupulously divided into life activities, technical activities and scientific work. I constantly had not enough time, and there were so many temptations to look at our blue and white planet for a moment. It was only night that gave me such a chance; then, at the expense of my sleep, I could enjoy the beauty of the Earth, I also felt moments of great joy, and when cosmic night came and my colleagues went to sleep, I felt loneliness and sadness. I often had thoughts of my loved ones. I watched every corner of our cradle, the joyful inhabited places full of various colours, the other mysterious and quite alien ones, single-coloured and without any trace of human activity – this is endless white Antarctica. It was there, in a small scientific station, in isolation from civilisation and in a harsh climate, that Polish scientists worked on their own for many months. Their situation was probably more difficult than that of ours. On the next overflight, I gave them greetings from orbit. How pleased I was to hear in response the familiar voice of Jan Terelak, a psychologist who was a member of the committee qualifying Polish candidates for the flight to space. Dr Jan Terelak, now a professor of psychology, has carried out tremendous work in the Antarctic station, the results of which he published in his work Effects of Extremely Social Isolation: Perspective of space psychology. The content of the study goes far beyond the “Antarctic theme.” The conclusions from the study can be useful in psychological preparation of crews for long-term stay in a single team in a cosmic habitat or on another extraterrestrial planet. We are now entering a new dynamic stage of space exploration. We have long-term scientific missions to the Moon, and soon to Mars, ahead of us. That is why Professor Jan Terelak’s study is timeless.

Mirosław Hermaszewski

Warsaw, 14.12.2020

←20 | 21→


Effective behaviour stems not from “good” people. It is called forth from “good” environments.

– Stanley Milgram

No one comes to Antarctica by chance.

–Jean McNeil

At the beginning of 1953, AmericanPsychologist published a summary on mental dysfunction in a situation of limited inflow of stimuli. The authors of the article “Cognitive Effects of a Decreased Variation in the Sensory Environment” were D. Hebb, W. Heron and W. Bexton. The paper presents a two-year experimental study and verifies some hypotheses on the relationship between stimulation and activation levels. It was, therefore, a continuation of the earlier reflections included by D. Hebb in his book The Organization of Behavior published in 1949. The author formulated, among other things, a thesis that both over-stimulation and under-stimulation, having an aversive character, are associated with discomfort and therefore prefer behaviours leading to maintaining an optimal level of stimulation. The Hebb’s deprivatory experiment is considered a breakthrough in the literature. Many scientific centres, especially in Canada and the USA, were then interested in experimental research on the so-called effects of sensory deprivation. However, in spite of many studies carried out by serious scientific centres on the effects of sensory deprivation and social isolation, aside from the empirically established facts, a number of myths and scientific legends related primarily to the interpretation of the results obtained have emerged.

The bibliography on the issues of deprivation is very extensive, which means that the attempt to classify and analyse this work faces serious obstacles, mainly related to different terminology, heterogeneous experimental conditions and the lack of a coherent theoretical concept explaining the results obtained. The development of modern civilisation often forces man to act in the so-called artificial conditions, which are sometimes characterised by a limited supply of stimulation and information. We can already mention a fairly large group of astronauts, long-term residents of the international space station, who are isolated from the outside world, and whose numbers will systematically increase with the development of space technology and planned flights between planets. This also applies to many operators of ground and underwater technical equipment who usually work alone (e.g. crane operators) or in small task forces (e.g. submarine ←21 | 22→crews, soldiers in shelters, offshore drilling rig crews, etc.), performing extremely responsible tasks in isolation from the external environment. The problems of deprivation and social isolation are still of particular interest to the contemporary astronautics. The success of long-term space flights with human crew, especially interplanetary flights, depends largely on learning about the mechanisms of human functioning in an artificial habitat of an orbital space station, or that on the Moon or Mars. No wonder that the effects of social deprivation and isolation have been and will be analysed in the future, from the empirical and theoretical point of view, by specialists from various disciplines: psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, physiologists, etc. Psychologists in this case are mainly interested in the role of external control through information from the environment, which is important in the process of behaviour regulation. Contemporary psychology, especially environmental psychology, emphasizes that a huge role in the regulation of relations between man and the environment is played by man’s expectations, ways of assessing and forecasting external phenomena, shaped on the basis of the whole life experience to date. Meanwhile, in situations of isolation from the outside world, situations, which are new for people, the network of the existing cognitive structures becomes disorganized, putting into question their usefulness and value in regulating behaviour. From this point of view, among other things, situations of social deprivation and isolation should be classified as stressful situations. A lot of pre-scientific data (e.g. logs of survivors and lonely sailors, clinical data, narratives, etc.) as well as scientific data has already been collected, but detailed knowledge of the role of external stimulation in behavioural regulation is still an open issue. Although there have also been attempts to systematise the theoretical facts collected, the results, usually collected within a single narrow field (e.g. psychology), are still unordered and often ambiguous. It must be stated, however, that these facts are consistent with one of the basic statements of environmental psychology: that man functions properly provided that they are properly stimulated from the outside under the conditions of earthly gravity.

The issues of deprivation and isolation were not properly reflected in the Polish literature on the subject until the 1970s. The first research in Polish space psychology was published in my book entitle: Człowiek w sytuacjach ekstremalnych: izolacja antarktyczna [Man in extreme situations: Antarctic isolation] (1982),1 which presents the results of a natural experiment carried out during a year-long scientific query at the Henryk Arctowski Antarctic Station of ←22 | 23→the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw on King George Island (South Shetland Islands). I decided to present the second edition of the book in English, supplemented by the latest literature on the subject and new analyses of group dynamics graphs, which in recent years has become the subject of experimental research in Earth’s space habits as analogues of missions on the planet Mars (e.g. MARS-ONE, MARS-500, MARS-520).

I was encouraged to do so a few years ago by the outstanding Antarctic psychologist, Professor A.J.W Taylor of the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, who “wintered” at Scott Base N.Z., located in the southern part of Antarctica and conducted as a clinical psychologist research on the effects of social isolation from the perspective of interests NASA.2 Professor came to Poland in 1984 to invite me to join the elite “Club of Psychologists of Antarctic Winter-Over.” I gave him my book as a goodbye. After a few weeks, I received a letter in which Professor Taylor assured that he had read it and suggested that it be published soon in English, because it contains the results of longitudinal research, unique in the psychological literature, carried out over a period of more than a year in a two-week cycle with the use of many tools and only psychometric (e.g. situational experiments, narrative method3). For objective reasons, it was not possible to fulfil the pledge made for the second edition. For many years, participating in the work of the Space and Satellite Research Committee, I became convinced that the interest in the development of research in the field of Polish medicine and space psychology has been dominated by space technology.4 Therefore, it is worth recalling the results of psychological research, documenting empirically the psychological barriers, concerning the effects of long-term perceptual deprivation and social isolation from the perspective of plans to “colonize” the planets closest to Earth in the Solar System. Moreover, not without significance is the reflection on the dynamic development of contemporary tools of interpersonal communication based on satellite communications at the turn of the 20th and 21st century, which will disallow the use of natural experimentation at present to study information deprivation and social isolation in the conditions of Antarctic expeditions. Although the results collected from ←23 | 24→the 1980s and 1990s under the conditions of a natural Antarctic laboratory are experiencing their “renaissance,” the dynamic development of space flight has unexpectedly quickly led to a paradigm shift, both in terms of spacecraft design and in terms of research concerning not only the individual health and mental fitness standards of cosmonauts/astronauts required for long-term space flight, like before, but also in terms of the interpersonal competences of the crew members, who are composed of people of various sexes, races, national cultures and professional status and role in the team. It is necessary to agree with H. Wichman (2011) from Aerospace Psychology Laboratory at Claremont McKenna College and Claremont Graduate University that completely new tasks are faced by space simulators, which under terrestrial conditions can create physical and psychosocial analogies of future space flights, especially long-range and interplanetary ones, which is well illustrated by experiments conducted in Martian habits (e.g. Dutch MARS One, Russian Mars-500, 520d, or American HI-SEAS I-IV, etc.). Current experience with long-term space missions on space stations (e.g. MIR, ISS) has provided arguments that the longer a space flight takes, the more problems involve the so-called human factor. This suggests that knowledge about man is always important to explain the factors adaptive to extreme situations, which include prolonging sensory deprivation and social isolation. Monitoring psychological factors begins with the selection and selection at the stage of preparation for space flight, but especially during the flight.5 After the trip to the moon, new psychological problems over the effects of sensory deprivation and social isolation are related to the planned trip to Mars project.6 This will largely depend on the development of research into protection against deadly cosmic rays and long-term weightlessness, as well as future technological developments such as “planet terraforming,” nuclear propulsion or human hibernation, etc.

In the course of preparation of the second edition of this book I realised that a natural experiment designed years ago on human behaviour in the conditions of long-term sensory deprivation and social isolation in a small research station in Antarctica, will be repeated on a global scale, after the WHO declared the “Coronovirus” (Covid-19) pandemic, while at the same time verifying the previously empirically collected results of research by many polar psychologists ←24 | 25→on a scale unprecedented in social sciences. Experience from years of polar data on the functioning of individuals and social groups in situations that can be briefly described as: Isolated, Confined and Extreme Environments (ICE), can be treated as an analogue of long term space flight with greater reliability than all previous results from laboratory experiments. This is evidenced, for example, by the early interest in these problems by the then young discipline of psychology, namely space psychology (Kubis, 1972); Petrov, Lomov & Samsonov, Eds. (1979), and earlier by polar psychology, whose research conducted so far in Antarctic stations by choice, proves that Antarctica is the only place on Earth that can be considered as an adequate analogue of a Martian habitat, for the reasons that it is “dead,” i.e. deprived of life and its attributes such as sounds and smells, which significantly impairs the functioning of the brain. This constant “sensory hunger” leads to an imbalance between the rational and emotional structure of the brain and hinders the ability to adapt, known for example from the “Antarctic Winter-over Syndrome” also described in this book.

←25 | 26→

1 The first edition, at NASA’s request through the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, was sent to the Library of the U.S. Congress immediately after it was released.

2 The results of these studies are presented in the book A.J.W. Taylor (1987). Antarctic Psychology. Wellington: Science Information Publishing Center.

3 Descriptions of these studies from a narrative perspective are included in the book Antarctic Winter-Over Syndrome: Narrative perspective, (Berlin 2021, Peter Lang).

4 K. Kwarecki, J. Terelak: Medycyna i Psychologia kosmiczna [Medicine and Space Psychology], (Warsaw, 1980, Wiedza Powszechna).

5 Bernd Johannes, Berna van Baarsen (2020). Psychological Monitoring. In: Alexander Choukèr Ed. Stress Challenges and Immunity in Space (pp. 421–432). Second Edition. Springer. Cham.

6 Heppener M. (2020) Moon, Mars and Beyond. In: Choukèr A. (eds) Stress Challenges and Immunity in Space. (pp. 709–733). Cite as Springer, Cham.

←28 | 29→

1. Man and the Environment

The claim about the complex relationship between man and his environment is accepted as a fundamental fact not only in environmental psychology. When considering the organism as a basic ecological unit, attention is drawn to the fact that the environment, both social, physical, chemical and biological, is characterised by a whole variety of specific and non-specific factors (Bańka, 2002). Individual environmental factors interact with each other, influencing each other, as well as modifying the body’s reactions. This almost infinite number of interactions has led some environmental researchers to seek correlations between a single factor and an individual organism’s response, while others have taken the view that the environment is such a compact whole that individual factors should not be broken down. The first of these approaches led to many controversial results, while the second one led to completely unscientific considerations. Therefore, contemporary environmental psychology, by creating its own research models, draws on knowledge describing the environment from other perspectives.

1.1. Main statements of environmental psychology

In environmental psychology, the researcher’s situation is even more complicated if one considers both the multifaceted characteristics of the environment and one’s own deliberate activity. It is known that when a process taking place in the body is influenced by several environmental factors, the reaction of the body can be very varied, often can be opposite to the expected one, depending on the action of mediation factors. From this point of view, environmental psychology should capture the interactions between environmental factors and various levels of psychological organisation. This demand is not easy to fulfil, especially at the methodological level.

Generally speaking, following the Polish psychologist Tadeusz Tomaszewski (1978), three main ways of considering the relationship between man and his environment can be distinguished. The first way accentuates, above all things, the importance of personal dispositions and is preferred by the so-called “dispositioners” or dispositional orientation. The second approach means focusing on the importance of the situation in human life, which is done by the so-called “situationalists.” An excellent illustration of the search for the rationale to both extremes is the classic question: “heredity or environment,” which has occupied ←29 | 30→an important place in the history of both philosophy and psychology. Contemporary psychology, taking advantage of the achievements of such disciplines as: physiology, genetics, pedagogy and others, believes that the opposition of both factors is unjustified. Human relationships are much more complex than what the proponents of accentuating interactions see, suggesting that situations are as much a function of the person as their behaviour is a function of the situation.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (October)
Polar Psychology Space Psychology extreme stress perceptual isolation group dynamics adaptation processes
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 410 pp., 64 fig. b/w, 5 tables.

Biographical notes

Jan Felicjan Terelak (Author)

Jan Felicjan Terelak is Full Professor at the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyñski University in Warsaw, Head of the Chair of Stress and Labor Psychology, and Director of the Transportation Laboratory. His scientific activity focuses on problems of extreme stress psychology and aerospace and space psychology.


Title: Antarctic Isolation as a Mars Habitat Analogue
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413 pages