Extroverts Don't Belong on Mars

A new study suggests their personalities are not meant for long, isolated voyages.
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Extroverted friends are good for a lot of things—serving as deft and lively wingmen, spicing up book club, sparking interesting conversations at parties by wearing ostentatious leggings, etc.

One thing they may be less suited for: Long voyages to faraway planets.

Scientists are starting to think seriously about a manned flight to Mars. NASA is working on a spacecraft that could eventually make it to the red planet and back. Netherlands-based Mars One plans to send a team of astronauts to Mars in 2024 to establish a permanent human colony. That's right: the Mars One is a one-way trip. These people are going to have to get along.

DePaul University psychologist Suzanne Bell has been studying the personality types that would perform best on these prolonged, isolated journeys. In a recent poster presentation at Association for Psychological Science in San Francisco, she discussed the results of her review of research of personality types in "space analogue environments."

The main finding: When selecting astronauts for your Mars adventure, you may want to choose among the strong, silent types. (Emphasis on the silent.) In isolated contexts, extroverts may be perceived as "demanding of attention and intrusive," and "their level of warmth may be undesirable in a confined setting."

On Earth, extroverts are good to have on teams because they're sociable and assertive. But all bets are off in space: As Rachael Rettner at Live Science writes, "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.'"

Just as an introvert might be hesitant to take a road trip with someone who seems like he dusts his breakfast cereal with amphetamines, you might also be reluctant to hurtle through the cosmos in a metal can with him for over a year. 

This principle extends to similarly remote and arduous scenarios, Bell notes:

"In addition to having negative implications for [long-distance space exploration], high extraversion within teams may also be problematic for other teams function and living in extended confinement," she writes. "These include sport teams in training, military teams, oil drilling teams, hiking groups, and scientific teams in remote locations such as Antarctica." ("Even the penguins are complaining about the incessant high-fives, Greg.")

Besides, everyone knows it's the introverts we should send to Mars—they're getting really sick of the open-plan offices here on Earth.

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Olga Khazan is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where she covers health.

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