The Psychology of Space….in Space

By Dr. Nikki Street, Dr. Gemma Hurst & Dr. Daniel Jolley

Could you live for a year or more in space? What challenges might you face living and working there? What would you miss about earth? These are the question we proposed to over 1500 attendees during the European Researchers Night at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in September 2018.

Psychologists from The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research at Staffordshire University attended the event where our aim was to introduce the guests to the physical environment in space and together discuss the challenges with space travel on people’s wellbeing. Drs Nichola Street, Gemma Hurst and Daniel Jolley, and Dina Grinstead and Darel Cookson were on hand during the night to discuss the Psychology of Space with guests.

The event was split into different parts.  First, guests ‘travelled’ to the International Space Station (ISS) using Virtual Reality equipment to explore the living conditions of space travellers.  We asked guests to consider what they would find most challenging living on the ISS for a year and what they might miss about earth during that time. The ISS that they explored can be termed an ICE environment; those environments which are Isolated, Confined and Extreme. Spending time in these types of environments is a psychological challenge.  For those guests who were a little too young to use the Virtual Reality, they were able to view the space centre on a projected screen.Alongside the VR exploration, we asked what guests would miss the most if they had to live in space for a year. The responses from guests were heart-warming and clear patterns appeared:  People would miss their Family, Friends, Pets, Food (they had tasted space food in another Staffordshire University run activity on the night) and nature. People talked about missing the space to walk the dog or the chance to change where you are.Next, guests entered a ‘psychology relief room’ in which they were exposed to natural imagery and sound. These nature interventions have been trailed in ICE environments as a way to dampen the potentially harmful effects of physical space with success. Evidence shows that even when direct access to nature is not possible (as it would not be in space) nature substitutes can go some way to reduce psychological harm.

While the ‘extreme’ aspect may be missing from many of our experiences on earth we can certainly think of many places that fit into the isolated and confined categories such as hospitals, prisons or even your home or work places. And like our space travellers pointed out, Nature exposure can go some way towards combatting the negative effects.  The research of Drs Nikki Street & Gemma Hurst aims to shed light on the impact of physical environments on an individual’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour. To learn more about the exciting research from the department please visit The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research‘s website.


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

For more information about the Psychology degrees on offer at Staffordshire University please visit the below pages:

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