Mixed-gender groups: coping strategies and factors of psychological adaptation in a polar environment

Aviat Space Environ Med. 2004 Jul;75(7 Suppl):C10-3.


The polar environment is often seen as a good analog for long-term space missions in terms of isolation and confinement. This paper focuses on the psychological adaptation of both the men and women in mixed-gender groups in the French polar station Dumont d'Urville. The first 49 expeditions to this station were composed of men only in groups of 25-30. In 2000, two women were included in the first mixed-gender wintering group, followed by five women in 2001. This study on coping strategies and psychological adaptation was included in an end-of-mission debriefing performed by a psychologist. Data were collected using a few quantitative tools and a semi-structured interview, and focused on adaptation to wintering, coping strategies, and information on interpersonal relationships. Including women in a wintering group seems to have had positive effects on the general climate of the group by reducing men's rude behavior, but it also seems to be an important stressor for both men and women when the females' average age is close to the males' because seduction behaviors appear and rivalry, frustration, and sexual harassment frequently result. The use of problem-oriented strategies helps women to adapt. There are strong arguments indicating that living in an isolated and confined environment magnifies the usual difficulties that arise in mixed-gender relationships. Difficulties may be magnified in space since the group size is smaller and the confinement more extreme. This implies the need for rigorous select-in criteria for both men and women, especially for relational criteria, and for group training after selection.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Antarctic Regions
  • Female
  • Group Processes
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged