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Human Research Program

Countermeasure for Managing Interpersonal Conflicts in Space: A Continuation Study

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

Some amount of interpersonal conflict is expected on long-duration (LD) space missions, whether between crewmembers or between the crew and the ground. Severe conflicts, however, can interfere with mission success and even safety.

1. THE PRIMARY DELIVERABLE IS A COUNTERMEASURE TO HELP CREWS MANAGE INTERPERSONAL CONFLICT. We have produced an interactive media intervention program to assist persons to manage real, ongoing conflicts on LD missions. This intervention is based on cognitive-behavioral therapy and is designed to help individuals to: A) work out strategies to manage the conflict, and B) maintain good psychosocial/mental wellbeing and good work productivity despite the conflict, via the assistance of a coach, on computer.

2. A SECOND DELIVERABLE IS PRELIMINARY DATA ON THE USABILITY, ACCEPTABILITY, AND EFFECTIVENESS OF THE COUNTERMEASURE IN FIREFIGHTERS. We conducted an open trial to obtain these data using firefighters (a population analogous to astronauts) who are in ongoing conflicts. This open trial also enabled us to develop and assess our procedures and instruments for data collection, and estimate effect size, in preparation for a future randomized controlled trial. THIS APPEARS TO BE THE FIRST STANDARDIZED INTERVENTION (SELF-GUIDED OR OTHERWISE) TO BE EVALUATED FOR THE MANAGEMENT OF WORKPLACE CONFLICTS BETWEEN PEERS IN ANY INDUSTRY. This interactive media program rounds out a suite of assessment, intervention, and training tools for long-duration flyers, all accessible via a single portal: the Virtual Space Station (see Carter et al., 2005). Other major resources in the Virtual Space Station developed through NSBRI (National Space Biomedical Research Institute) support include an intervention for depression, an intervention for chronic stress, and self-assessment of depression and conflict with tailored feedback.

Year 4 involved the design of a methodology to collect data from firefighters who would use the program across the United States. The process involved the executable program bundling and sending data to a HIPAA-compliant cloud server and the subsequent transfer of that data to a local server behind the firewall at Partners Healthcare. This year also involved the programming of a web-based assessment for completion of pre- and post-intervention. Finally, the conflict management program was evaluated with a sample of firefighters. Throughout, we have worked closely with NASA flight surgeons, plus the Houston Fire Department, the Phoenix Fire Department, and the San Diego Fire Department.

UNIQUE ASPECTS OF THIS STUDY:

1. This software appears to be the FIRST COMPUTER-AUTOMATED BEHAVIORAL INTERVENTION THAT TAILORS THE INTERVENTION COMPONENTS TO THE USER'S NEEDS. Prior computer-automated treatments have provided the same clinical components to all users, without regard to whether the user needed them or not. This makes our intervention highly tailored to the unique status of the individual and also highly efficient, since users are only presented with content that is applicable to them.

2. TAILORING THE PROGRAM TO USERS FOLLOWS A UNIQUE PROCESS. We have developed a set of algorithms that approximates an item-response procedure to decide whether users should receive domains of interventional content or not. Computer-adaptive testing is performed in the first intervention setting to create a treatment plan to help him or her manage the interpersonal conflict. Users answer questions from validated measures to determine whether or not a given content area will be presented to them. The assessments are only used to make a binary decision of whether a user should receive that interventional content. Once the user's responses reach a numerical threshold (or cannot reach it), the program ceases asking questions in that domain and moves to the next. This application of computer-adaptive testing technology reduces the amount of questions needed to be answered by users to tailor their treatment, making the intervention more time-efficient.

3. This appears to be the FIRST INTERACTIVE MEDIA PROGRAM EVER DEVELOPED TO ASSIST PERSONS TO FORMULATE AN ACTION PLAN TO MANAGE A SPECIFIC WORKPLACE CONFLICT.

4. The planned evaluation of the program will be THE FIRST TO EVALUATE ANY INTERVENTION FOR CONFLICT BETWEEN CO-WORKERS ACROSS MULTIPLE SETTINGS IN ANY INDUSTRY. Current computer-delivered behavioral interventions have generally guided users through a pre-determined set of activities designed to address a presenting problem. This study advances the field of automated, computer-based interventions by tailoring the contents of the intervention—and even the clinical topics presented—to the user's needs. The conflict intervention program delivers a core set of interventions to assist users with their interpersonal conflict: problem solving, cognitive restructuring, and negotiation skills training. In addition, a series of empirically supported self-assessments also evaluate whether a user should receive content to improve his or her assertiveness, ability to manage anger, or empathy (the ability to understand the other party's point of view and emotional state). With this approach, the users receive content tailored to their particular needs, and they don't waste time on unnecessary content. Persons involved in intense workplace conflicts may also experience problems with sleep, anxiety, depression, alcohol abuse, stress, rumination, and others. This program incorporates empirically supported measures of these problems to determine whether users would benefit from content on any or all of these seven topics. If so, the program provides optional content on the topic area.

Finally, to date, research on workgroup conflict has generally been phenomenological and descriptive. Despite the ubiquity of conflict between co-workers across all industries, and the potentially large costs of conflict in productivity, NO PRIOR STUDIES HAVE EMPIRICALLY EVALUATED A STANDARDIZED INTERVENTION FOR WORKPLACE CONFLICTS.

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