Effectiveness of a Shared Social Behavioral Task as a Team-Building Exercise in Isolated, Confined, and Extreme Environments

Long-duration missions in isolated, confined, and extreme (ICE) environments can lead to social withdrawal and reduced team cohesion, potentially increasing risks to individual and team behavioral health and mission performance. As with physical exercise and individual muscle, bone, and cardiovascular health, regular “social” exercise in ICE environments may help build and maintain some of the behavioral processes that underlie team and mission success. To this end, we recently developed a behavioral software tool called COHESION (Capturing Objective Human Econometric Social Interactions in Organizations and Networks). 

COHESION is built on a conceptual, methodological, and analytical foundation of Behavioral Economics, and objectively measures cooperation, productivity, fairness, and other dynamic social processes in small groups. Unlike simultaneous activities that are only passively social (e.g., exercise, meals, TV), or inherently social activities that require competition (e.g., video/board/card games), COHESION allows the expression of a wide range of social behaviors while task success is interdependent and can be facilitated by cooperation and fairness in response to uncontrollable environmental stresses. In addition to its value as a research and assessment tool, systematic qualitative data from HI-SEAS and other isolated environments suggest that a simple shared task environment such as COHESION can actually be enjoyable, defuse tension, and increase positive feelings in data-driven, achievement-oriented teams. As an experimental test of COHESION’s effectiveness as a team-building exercise in operational environments, the HI-SEAS Mission V and Mission VI Crews engage in regularly scheduled COHESION sessions alternating with periods of no COHESION. We collect standardized measures of team cohesion, performance, and biopsychosocial adaptation throughout the mission, ultimately comparing the various outcomes during the periods with vs. without COHESION.

These data and behavioral science technologies such as COHESION can help NASA mission planners, military commands, safety-critical work teams, and other professional organizations select, compose, and support the most effective teams for long-term success.

Contact: Peter G. Roma, PhD, Institutes for Behavior Resources and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. PeteRoma@gmail.com