Methodology of Space Crew Psychological Status Control

Psycho-diagnostics in the medical support system of manned space missions aims at the identification of various forms of adaptive behavior of people under extreme conditions of life and work. In other words, psycho-diagnostics of cosmonauts’ health status is a synthesis of behavioral and professional performance evaluations made conjointly by physicians and psychologists who are using approved procedures, evaluation scales, and terminology. Monitoring of the crew’s health is done in a complicated professional environment which differs from the normal clinical environment in several ways. In a spaceflight, unlike clinical conditions, expert evaluation and diagnostics are performed on the basis of a remote observation (no direct contact with a “patient”), w'ith a scarcity of diagnostic data and impossibility in certain cases to make some necessary additional studies. Medical practice on Earth presupposes such relationship as “curing doctor and suffering patient,” who is mostly motivated to disclose the patient’s status. In the frame of a spaceflight, physicians and psychologists, who fulfill a role of a distant observer (and not of a proximate helper), have to deal w'ith healthy people w'ho have passed a careful medical selection and are not inclined to complaint. Moreover, due to the fact that cosmonauts are highly motivated to continue the Mission and take part in a subsequent flight, they are likely to deny any health or psychological problems which they might be suffering from. On the one hand, such behavioral strategy allows to keep up their self-confidence and efficiency and is necessary to cope. On the other hand, it leads on to a denial of actually existing medical and psychological problems. So classic methods of direct interviewing which have proved to be reliable on Earth, both oral and w'ritten ones (tests), yield a so-called “socially desirable” result meaning: “we are OK” - which ensures the image of a superhero capable of enduring any hardship. Therefore inflight diagnostic decisions have to be taken on the basis of insufficient information or, alternatively, new approaches tow'ard medico-psychological diagnostics have to be developed.

Psychological control of cosmonauts at Space Station performed by I BMP, led the IBMP specialists to the development of a method which allows remotely controlling and evaluating the crew’s psycho-emotional status. It is based on the expert evaluation of the content of their communication with Mission Control Center (TCOUP). Information exchange is an intrinsic part of the professional activity of cosmonauts and MCC, and the communication efficiency directly determines the appropriateness of MCC and crew decisions for the accomplishment of Mission Protocol. Combining engineering, technological, medical, and psychological aspects of this professional activity makes communication of the crew and Mission Control an important source of unbiased current information. Adequate, open, and friendly contact between the ground and the space professional groups determines, on the one hand, emotional tonus and performance of the cosmonauts, and, on the other hand, precludes the development of so-called deprivation effects caused by the impact of factors of a prolonged spaceflight. The level of personal disclosure in communication during prolonged flight, including emotions and conflict tension, is not complete for the abovementioned reasons, but is still better than during official interviews and reports. Research conducted during flights at “Mir” space station (Myasnikov, Shaposhnikov, & Zamaletdinov, 2001) revealed that various parameters of verbal activity (length of communication session, semantics, thematic variety of speech, emotional expressiveness of voice messages, etc.) are relatively stable indicators of the individual verbal behavior of a cosmonaut. Due to this, a record and a later detailed analysis of communication of a space crew and Mission Control have been an intrinsic part of the

IBMP’s medical support group activities starting from the 70s of the past century (Myasnikov et ah, 1982).

Until recently such analysis was a descriptive procedure made by specially trained experts with medical background. According to this procedure the specialists, analyzing crew-MCC talks, on the basis of their expert opinions have to complete on the daily basis a list of individual and group-related indicators of the psychoneurological status of crewmembers (Orbital Station “Mir”, 2001,2002). The authors of this list of criteria - Myasnikov and Zamaletdinov (1997) - distinguished 14 individual and five group-related indicators used in the dynamic evaluation of the cosmonauts’ mental state. The individual indicators are: dominant interests, proposals (complaints), deprivation phenomena, emotional response, mood, general behavior, health, sensorial sphere, motor performance, sleep, psycho-physiological tension, and professional activity. In order to estimate accompanying individual workload of the crewmembers another scale of expert evaluations has been developed, which helps to render the work-rest distribution in quantitative characteristics ranged by number of points. A special cluster of scales describes efficiency of group interaction thus allowing to conclude about the small group’s structure (formal and informal leaders, scapegoats) and about the presence of tension in the space-crew interaction. Monitored signs of a conflict in the crew are: narrowing of the contacts within the crew and the exclusion of the scapegoat from it, or limiting interaction with such partner to the formal minimum, determined by the need to participate in a common activity. Later B.I. Myasnikov and I.S. Zamaletdinov added into the above-described procedure 7 degrees of intensity for each diagnostics indicator. The diagnostics scale was subdivided into three zones: optimal (from the 1st to the 3rd degree of the qualitative evaluation), transitional (from the 4th to the 5th degree), and unfavorable (from the 6th to the 7th degree). A precondition for a correct assessment of an indicator is the fact that this indicator has appeared in at least two successive communication sessions.

So, quantitative values representing qualitative changes along all or the majority of indicators make up quite an informative system of a dynamical remote evaluation. The main advantage of the usage of the crew-MCC communication for the evaluation of the cosmonauts’ psychological status is its “noninvasiveness,” since the board-ground communication is a regular procedure in a spaceflight. Diagnostic technique developed by psychologists from IBMP allows to evaluate quantitatively the psychic status of cosmonauts as well as “psychological climate” in a space crew without compelling the crewmembers to undergo additional test procedures which would demand extra time and without installing additional equipment at the space station. On the basis of the elaborated criteria of communication’s content analysis psychologists from IBMP can provide flight directors on the daily and weekly basis with their conclusions about the psychological status of the crew.

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