September 30, 2016

About the Expedition and Adventure Psychology Project

Welcome to the Expedition Psychology Project led by Professor Emma Barrett and Dr Nathan Smith.

Register me for the participant pool!

What’s the Expedition and Adventure Psychology Project?

We’re researching how people prepare for, adapt to, perform in, and benefit from harsh, unforgiving and often dangerous places and activities.

The overarching aim of our research on expeditions is to help people understand and cope with the hardships and maximise the positive aspects of expedition-going. Physical dangers are obvious, but sometimes it’s the psychological challenges that are the most difficult to overcome. Things like enduring hardship, managing fear and anxiety, and dealing with monotony, sleep deprivation and isolation – not to mention the potential stress of being cooped up with the same small group of people for weeks on end.

Although expedition environments can be stressful, people often talk about the benefits of participating. For instance, participating can help people feel more confident, enhances skills and CVs, and lead to a better understanding of communicating and working with others. So as well as understanding the potential challenges faced by those participating in expeditions, we’re just as interested in the positive outcomes of venturing into extreme, isolated, and potentially hostile locations.

We’re also interested in adventure activities – which may or may not be part of an expedition. What drives people to engage in risky activities, how do they achieve peak performance, and what do they gain from the experience?

Who are you?

Emma is Professor of Psychology, Security and Trust at University of Manchester and Honorary Researcher at Lancaster University. She is the co-author (with Paul Martin) of Extreme: Why some people thrive at the limits, which explores the psychological aspects of extreme environments.

Nathan is a Sports Psychologist, most recently at the University of Northampton. He’s led several research projects over the last few years, with polar, desert and mountaineering expedition groups, Antarctic research scientists, and military personnel.

Olivia (Liv) Brown is a PhD student at Lancaster University, supervised by Emma, researching how teams make decisions in stressful and high-pressure situations.

What projects are you currently working on?

Emma and Nathan are collaborating on several projects. We’re currently working on a study of how people transition into and out of extreme environments where we’ve interviewed several expedition-goers with varying degrees of expedition experience about their experience of the transitions and the strategies they use to cope with challenges. Emma and Liv are working with a UK school on a study of the experiences and benefits of expedition-going by 14-16 year olds, and Liv has been doing research with adventure teams to study team per

In addition, Emma is academic advisor to the Women’s Adventure Expo project on Managing Menstruation in Extreme Environments, Nathan is leading other studies of team expeditions looking at expedition preparation and daily responses to the challenges of expedition life, and  Liv is carrying out research into team cohesion and decision making in challenging environments.

What do you class as an expedition?

Good question – everyone has a different conception of what an expedition is. For some it might be wild camping in the UK for a week, for others it is a several-month trip to the Himalaya. But in general, we would class an expedition as a trip of at least 7 days, self-supported, and include an organised journey between two or more locations – that could be from a basecamp to a summit, or from a start to end location.

Can I get involved?

Yes you can! Whether you are planning your first expedition or you’re an expedition veteran we’ve got opportunities for you to participate in research. The first step is to sign up to join our Expedition and Adventure Psychology Participant Pool (EAP3). We’ll then send you details of opportunities to join new and ongoing research studies – it’s entirely up to you which ones you volunteer for. There’s no minimum commitment and you can leave at any time.

What does being a member of EAP3 involve?

It depends on the study! Research studies may include interviews (often by Skype, at a time convenient to you). We might send you surveys and questionnaires to complete – either a one-off or at a series of time points. If you want to carry out research during an expedition, this might involve you and your team mates filling in short ‘daily diary’ sheets, or – if conditions allow – recording video entries. We might also run experiments – usually online, where we test your reaction times of memory.

Participation in a study is voluntary – you don’t have to volunteer and even if you do, you can withdraw from a study at any point during data collection. After the data is collected you’ll also have the chance to withdraw your data up to a certain point (usually 3 months after).

We’ll send you updates on the projects we’re running and on the results as they emerge so you can see what you and your fellow EP3 members are helping to discover.

Is there a minimum commitment?

No. Once you’ve registered you will have the opportunity to participate in studies but you don’t have to volunteer for any of them. You can leave the participant pool at any time.

Can I suggest a research topic?

Yes! We’re keen to do research that you’d find useful and interesting. At the moment there’s only the three of us so there’s a limit to how much we can do and how quickly. We’re looking for more funding to enable us to recruit PhD students and research assistants for more ambitious projects and pursue collaboration with established researchers working in related areas.

Who funds you?

At the moment we are doing this alongside our ‘day jobs’. We will be applying for research funding and may also seek industry funding for research projects. When we launch a new project we’ll always make it clear who is funding it.

Is your research ethical and will my data be safe?

All research projects will be cleared in advance by our university ethics boards, which check that the research won’t put anyone at risk, your involvement will be confidential, and that information you provide will be protected.

Lancaster University (where your data will be held) has strict information security policies to protect sensitive data and comply with the Data Protection Act. The EAP3 database will be stored in encrypted form. Only the research team will have access to your data.

I’m a psychologist – can I join the research team?

We’d love to hear from you. We’re keen to build a community of researchers as well as research participants. If you are a masters’ student looking for a dissertation topic or a funded PhD then there may be opportunities to gather and analyse data as part of one of our projects. If you’re an established researcher there might be opportunities for us to collaborate on funding applications. Get in touch and we’ll talk!

I have other questions – where can I find out more?

We’d love to hear from you. Email Emma at

I want to join!

Great. Click here to fill in the form. It will take about 5 minutes and you’ll be a member of the pool!