Brains @ Work. Better performance at zeroG?

Publication: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution - Published abstract for conference with selection processResearchpeer-review


In order to maintain and improve mission safety and mission success, in the recent decades several attempts have been made to evaluate cognitive processing in microgravity. Although results are quite inconsistent, those studies reporting a decrement in cognitive performance are barely able to distinguish between primary effects of weightlessness and secondary, stress related effects (e.g. caused by the confinement). In addition, currently available results are merely based on behavioural rather than neuro-cognitive data.
The current study aimed to display the effects of weightlessness on neurophysiological processing with respect to a mental arithmetic task (executive function).
During the 1G and 0G phases (eliminating a possible stress component) of a parabolic flight, two numbers were presented on the left and right side of a touchscreen. The larger one had to be identified by tapping on the screen as quickly as possible. The latency between the appearance of the numbers and the tapping was identified as reaction time. In addition the event related N200, which has been reported to monitor strategic cognitive control, was determined over the visual cortex by using an active EEG system.

In the current study two groups have performed at different levels of difficulty. Whereas group 1 (n=15) performed at the easiest level, group 2 (n=10) performed with increasing levels of difficulty, i.e. numbers where replaced by equations (e.g. (2*3)+1 vs. 8) with increasing level of difficulty.

Results for group 1 (easy) show no difference in reaction time between 0G and 1G. Obviously reaction time increased with increasing levels of difficulty in group 2 but interestingly reaction time was significantly slower during 1G conditions
This was mirrored by an increase in N200 latency as well as N200 amplitude during 1G conditions indicating a quicker neuronal processing under microgravity. No differences between groups could be identified.

This study is the first to show that executive function in microgravity might not necessarily be impaired. This might be due to the fact that the oxygen delivery to the brain is significantly increased during 0G (Schneider et al, Eur J Appl Physiol, 2013). Previous and future results need to be reinterpreted with reference to a possible stress component.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 19th IAA Humans in Space Symposium 2013
Publication date2013
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Event IAA Humans in Space - Köln, Germany
Duration: 07.07.201312.07.2013
Conference number: 19