Who makes the right team to work on an Antarctic Base? Cyril Jaksic, a PhD student from Lincoln University in New Zealand, made this question part of his thesis. His research investigates the combination of social needs and personality traits that best predict a person’s adaptation to the extreme environment.

The work on an Antarctic base is not an ordinary research position. The conditions are unlike anywhere else in the world and are very demanding. Picture: Katja Riedel
The work on an Antarctic base is not an ordinary research position. The conditions are unlike anywhere else in the world and are very demanding. Picture: Katja Riedel

A Lincoln University PhD student is conducting a research study that aims to determine the individual characteristics best suited for people embarking on winter Antarctic missions.

The unique environment at an Antarctic station can place a psychological strain on explorers, so it is important to select the right people for the job – people who are most likely to successfully adapt to the challenges they will face and be able to perform well as a result, Cyril Jaksic says.

“Research carried out in Antarctica allows us to understand more about our planet, providing the opportunity for study in areas such as glaciology, atmospheric physics and meteorology.

“However, the success of those important missions depends on crew members’ job satisfaction and performance, which are known to be related to how they adapt to the extreme environment,” Mr Jaksic says.

Extreme cold, bad weather and darkness demand a high level of adaption to anyone overwintering on an Antarctic research station. Thus, a careful psychological examination is desirable. Picture: Katja Riedel
Extreme cold, bad weather and darkness demand a high level of adaption to anyone overwintering on an Antarctic research station. Thus, a careful psychological examination is desirable. Picture: Katja Riedel

His research investigates the combination of social needs and personality traits that best predict a person’s adaptation, which he says could have implications for how crew members are selected to embark on Antarctic missions in the future.

“An Antarctic station is an isolated place, meaning explorers are separated from family and friends and can suffer from loneliness. However, the station is also a confined habitat, which can lead to a sense of crowding.

“These two elements seem contradictory, but both isolation and confinement are known to lead to similar consequences: sleep disturbance, cognitive impairment and negative mood. These symptoms have been widely observed in Antarctica and termed the ‘winter-over syndrome’.”

Mr Jaksic says an ideal crew member should be able to adapt to the environmental factors and perform efficiently in spite of the challenges involved. However, previous studies have considered only the effect of personality on performance and negative mood, with no consideration for the unique nature of the environment, Mr Jaksic says. “My study looks at how an individual’s needs and personality contribute to whether they can cope with the lack of social contact and lack of privacy in an Antarctic station.”

Being able to work in a team is a key asset to any successful work on an Antarctic station. Picture: Katja Riedel
Being able to work in a team is a key asset to any successful work on an Antarctic station. Picture: Katja Riedel

Using a variety of personality and behavioural questionnaires before and during expeditions, Mr Jaksic will study the behaviour of a selection of explorers who are set to spend the 2016 winter in Antarctica.

“Participants will be asked to complete three online questionnaires before the beginning of their trip,” he says. “The first two relate to their need for social contacts and privacy, as this will help determine how they might adapt to the Antarctic station. The third is the well-known Big Five Inventory, which evaluates people’s personality traits.”

The participants will also be asked to complete monthly online questionnaires while at the Antarctic station, so Mr Jaksic can assess how well the individual adapts to the environment. “Then I can analyse the results to discover whether the answers to the first questionnaires show a predictable pattern in terms of how the participants adapt and perform at the Antarctic station,” says Mr Jaksic. “Ultimately, I hope the resulting information will help with future selection processes.”

Loneliness and solitude are some of the most often confronted feelings when being in Antarctica for several months. Picture: Katja Riedel
Loneliness and solitude are some of the most often confronted feelings when being in Antarctica for several months. Picture: Katja Riedel

Source: Lincoln University