Social Distancing and the Brain - What can we learn from Spaceflight?

Social distancing in response to the fight against the spread of COVID-19 was indubitably necessary and still continues to be an important prevention tool, even after the introduction of vaccination schemes across the globe. However, it is also a fact that social distancing has affected many aspects of life, causing changes in behaviour for the majority of the population. The challenge comes over time, and distancing measures can make individuals feel increasingly isolated and lonely, boosting their levels of stress and anxiety. 

Alexander Stahn has reached the conclusion that spaceflight research in humans provides unique opportunities to better understand the effects of social isolation and confinement on the brain. His experience with spaceflight analogue studies ranges from highly controlled laboratory studies to Antarctic expeditions, and it has helped him shed some light on how we can utilize these settings to develop new approaches to cope with the stressors associated with isolation and confinement in this day and age.

About our speaker

Alexander Stahn

Assistant Professor, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Alexander C. Stahn is an Assistant Professor in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. His research focuses on the effects of spaceflight and extreme environments on the brain and behaviour. Dr Stahn is particularly interested in the role of social isolation, sensory deprivation and physical inactivity on the brain, for which he received several grants from NASA, ESA, and DLR. His research on the effects of Antarctic expeditions on the brain ranks currently among the top 5% of all research outputs ever tracked by Altmetric.

Dr Stahn was an Executive board member of the German Society for Aviation and Space Medicine. He is a consultant for NASA and ESA, providing research recommendations for safe and healthy human spaceflight and exploration. He was the recipient of scholarships and awards from the German Research Foundation (DFG), Elsa Neumann Neumann Foundation, Harry Crossley Foundation, the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES), the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and the Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics (SBMT). His recent work includes the development of a virtual reality system to augment sensory stimulation during isolation and confinement. Dr Stahn is also part of the CIPHER-Project, a consortium to investigate health, safety, and performance in astronauts, where he will identify the dose-response relationship between spaceflight exposure and brain and behavioural changes.

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