University awarded PADI funding for groundbreaking psychology research

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The University of Winchester has been awarded $5,000 by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) to extend its research looking into the causes and effects of nitrogen narcosis in divers.

Dr Malcolm Hobbs (left) collecting data from divers in the Republic of Vanuatu in the South Pacific Ocean

There are many questions as to what exactly narcosis is and how it affects people, especially with respect to their cognitive functioning whilst underwater.

Nitrogen narcosis is a phenomenon that results from breathing air at increased ambient pressures. The symptoms include impairment of coordination, judgment, memory and alterations in mood and behaviour.

Narcosis is most commonly experienced by undersea divers at depths greater than 30m, where it is a significant contributing factor in diving-related accidents and impairment of underwater work performance. An improved understanding of narcosis has implications for diver training, safety and work performance in underwater environments.

“There are many questions as to what exactly narcosis is and how it affects people, especially with respect to their cognitive functioning whilst underwater,” explains Dr Wendy Kneller, senior lecturer in Psychology at the University of Winchester. “We are hoping to find the answers to some of these questions, particularly with respect to how narcosis affects memory underwater.”

The research was initiated by diver and psychologist Dr Malcolm Hobbs who Dr Kneller teamed up with three years ago. Their first joint study appeared in Undersea & Hyperbaric Medicine in 2009 and was followed by a second study in Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine last year.

The team is currently investigating how divers are affected by anxiety and self-awareness of memory impairment underwater. This research has already received $6,220 initial funding from PADI and additional funding will allow them to extend their investigations.

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Lisa Preston
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