(Antfer) #1
July 2019, ScientificAmerican.com 17

Why might your cognitive
test scores have declined once
you were back on Earth?
When you’re up there, and you’re doing tests
a lot, just like anything else you get better at
them. But when I got back, I wasn’t feeling
great. Imagine showing up to your SAT with
the flu: you probably wouldn’t do too well.
I attribute a lot of my performance on those
tests not necessarily to my cognitive ability
but more to the other symptoms I had. Even
though you might not have a cognitive deficit,
the fact that you feel like crap makes it very
hard to do those tests.
EDITORS’ NOTE: The nasa Twins Study research-
ers suggested that several factors, including Kelly’s
hectic postflight schedule, may have contributed to
the apparent decline in performance.

What does your experience tell us about
longer astronaut missions in the future?
The researchers didn’t observe anything that
would prevent us from going to Mars. Cer­
tainly the radiation is something we’ve got
to deal with, although this wasn’t really an ex­
periment on that. But if we’re going to go be­
yond Mars, we are going to have to start
thinking about artificial gravity. I flew in space
for seven, 13, 154 and then 340 days. The
longer you’re there, the more symptomatic
you are when you return. I couldn’t imagine
coming back to Earth after being in space for
many years.

“This external detour in information processing
is precisely what makes it possible for people
to come up with serendipitous solutions to dif­
ficult problems,” says Bruno Bocanegra, a psy­
chologist at Erasmus University Rotterdam in
the Netherlands and the paper’s lead author.
“The new test could be an asset to test
problem-solving in the real world,” says Wen­
dy Johnson, a psychologist at the Uni vers ity
of Edinburgh, who was not involved in the
research. Johnson would like to see a version
of the SAT college admissions exam that also
tests externalized thinking. “Overall, I think
the paper is a great addition to this burgeon­
ing field,” says Gaëlle Vallée-Tour ang eau,
a psychologist at Kingston University in
England, who has found that interacting
with the physical world helps people with
creativ ity and statistical reasoning. “We still
have a lot to learn, but it is time we move
away from a dated conception of the mind as
merely a computer.” — Matthew Hutson

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