A new study suggests that weightlessness in space can severely impact the cognitive thinking and emotional responses of astronauts, especially on longer missions. Human Mars mission is in the books for space agencies, such as NASA, which would require astronauts to spend longer time in space than they did ever before. According to the study, published in the journal Frontiers of Physiology, researchers analysed physiologic changes that can occur in human bodies while in microgravity. After the conclusion of the study, researchers found that the microgravity environment in outer space can cause astronauts’ cognitive domains to slow down, while their ability to recognise emotions worsens.
According to Frontiers of Physiology, twenty-four participants had to spend 60 consecutive days in bed, in a position that required their brain to be below the level of their lower body. Participants were rested at an angle of 6° head-down tilt bed rest (HDBR) paradigm to simulate microgravity. The participants were studied in three groups consisting of eight members each. Participants were required to perform all 10 cognitive tests of NASA repeatedly.
Researchers found significant slowing across a range of cognitive domains in all three groups, but only until a certain period because it became constant as time passed. However, the study showed that the emotion detection ability of participants worsened by each passing day as they were taking longer to decide which facial emotion was expressed.
“The three experimental groups did not differ significantly at baseline in terms of cognitive performance, sleep duration, or survey responses. Subjects in all three groups reported moderate levels of tiredness, sleepiness, sleep quality, mental fatigue, physical exhaustion, and workload; low levels of monotony, boredom, loneliness, depression, and stress; and high levels of health and happiness at baseline,” the study said.
Cognitive thinking is crucial to space programmes and so are emotion detection performances because of astronauts spending most of their time together in closed environments in outer space, performing important tasks. The results highlight the importance of adequate pre-launch psychological training and further support after astronauts are in space.