On land and sea, in the air and in space, at the very limits of human endurance, a few individuals choose to put their lives in danger to work and play in extreme environments. What drives them to risk everything? How do they prepare for situations that are way beyond the limits of ordinary experience, and how do they succeed once they’re there? What are the long-term effects on individuals and their families? And what are the lessons we can all take from their experiences’?
Welcome to Extreme, where we highlight new and existing research on the psychology of extreme environments and news articles on extreme achievements.
What do we mean by “extreme environments”?
Extreme environments are places in which humans have not evolved to exist, and in which they would soon perish without significant adaptation or technological support.
Such environments are both physiologically and psychologically challenging, and they place unusual physical and mental stresses on anyone who enters them. They tend to be experienced by people on their own or in relatively small groups, offering limited or no scope for interpersonal interaction. The risk of death or serious injury is ever-present, and those living in extreme environments often have few options for managing these risks. Paradoxically, people in extreme situations also commonly endure long periods of boredom and monotony.
Where do humans work and play in extreme environments?
- In the air: Ballooning, aviation, sky-diving
- In space: Lunar landings, extended orbits
- On land: Mountains, deserts, jungles
- Underground: Mining, potholing
- On the oceans: Yachting, deep-sea fishing
- Under the oceans: Depth, underwater habitats, free-diving, exploration
And not forgetting those extreme man-made hazards: High radiation, human guinea pigs, war, terrorists, mercenaries, freedom fighters and extreme protest…
About the authors
Emma and Paul are fascinated by the complexities of human lives, and passionate about communicating scientific research that makes those lives better. We both have a solid academic track record in scientific research and we both also have many years’ experience of making research accessible to a non-specialist readership.
Emma is a Chartered Psychologist and writer. She holds a PhD in forensic psychology from the University of Birmingham. Her career includes more than a decade leading a research team conducting and communicating psychological and criminological research for a range of law enforcement and other public sector customers, and she runs Psychology and Crime News and the Deception Blog. However, she also studies a more positive side of extreme behaviour: how and why people survive and thrive in harsh and extreme environments. Emma is Honorary Researcher in Psychology at Lancaster University and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
Paul was educated at the University of Cambridge and at Stanford University, where he was Harkness Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. He subsequently lectured and researched in behavioural biology at Cambridge and was a Fellow of Wolfson College. Paul is author or co-author of several science books including Measuring Behaviour, The Sickening Mind, Counting Sheep, Sex Drugs & Chocolate, and Making Happy People.