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Team sea voyages provide long-term psychological benefits

New research from Otago University has revealed that teenagers who join a Spirit of New Zealand sea voyage exhibit significant long-term increases in psychological resilience. This is said to be driven by their feelings of being accepted by members of their group.

The study, newly published in the British Journal of Social Psychology, involved 60 voyage participants and a control group of 60 year 11 and 60 year 12 students. The resilience of participants was assessed one month before the ten-day voyage, then on its first day, the morning of the last day, and nine months after the voyage ended. Social support, centrality of identity and sense of group belonging for voyage participants were also assessed on the last day.

The researchers found no different between the pre-voyage resilience of the participants and the year 11 group, but at nine months after the voyage the participants’ resilience scores were significantly higher than those of the year 12 control group.

Analysis by the researchers showed that the increase in resilience could be attributed to the participants’ sense of belonging to and acceptance by the ten-strong group they are with during the voyage. Members work together closely to complete challenging tasks in a tall-masted ship.

Study co-author Dr Damian Scarf of the university’s psychology department says the finding could help to explain why previous research into the psychological benefits of adventure education programmes (AEPs) has shown mixed results for building and maintaining resilience.

“While all AEPs incorporate stress and adversity, they may vary in how strongly they focus on fostering group belonging,” he says. Dr Scarf says this finding of the importance of belonging for improving resilience is consistent with a growing body of work on the “Social Cure”.

“This research, to which our study contributes, demonstrates that belonging to groups and receiving high levels of social support adds considerably to people’s mental and physical health,” he says.

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