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Why Extroverts Could Cause Problems on a Mission to Mars

Outgoing, talkative people can be great for teams. Except when they are crammed in a tiny spaceship headed for Mars.
/ Source: Live Science

As NASA focuses considerable effort on a mission to send humans to Mars in the coming decades, psychology researchers are looking at what types of personalities would work the best together on such a long trip.

Now, a new study finds that on long-term space missions — such as missions to Mars, which could take as long as three years to complete a round trip — having an extrovert on board could have several disadvantages.

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For example, extroverts tend to be talkative, but their gregarious nature may make them seem intrusive or demanding of attention in confined and isolated environments over the long term, the researchers say.

"You're talking about a very tiny vehicle, where people are in very isolated, very confined spaces," said study researcher Suzanne Bell, an associate professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago. "Extroverts have a little bit of a tough time in that situation."

If one person on a crew always wants to talk, while the other members are less social, "it could actually get pretty annoying," in that environment Bell said. (Remember George Clooney's character in the movie "Gravity"?)

The researchers concluded that extroverts could potentially be a "liability" on these missions.

In the new study, which is funded by NASA, Bell and her colleagues reviewed previous research on teams who lived in environments similar to those of a long-term space mission, including simulated spacecraft missions of more than 100 days, as well as missions in Antarctica.

Artist's rendering of the multi-purpose crew vehicle on a deep space mission.NASA

Typically, extroverts— who tend to be sociable, outgoing, energetic and assertive — are good to have on work teams because they speak up and engage in conversations about what needs to be done, which is good for planning, Bell said.

But the researchers found several potential drawbacks to having extroverts on teams in isolated, confined environments.

In one study of a spacecraft simulation, an extroverted team member was ostracized by two other members who were more reserved, Bell said. "They thought he was too brash, and would speak his mind too much, and talk too much," Bell said.

- Rachael Rettner, Live Science

This is a condensed version of an article that appeared on Live Science. Read the entire story here. Follow Rachael Rettner @RachaelRettner. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+.

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