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"Spirit of New Zealand" voyages lead to long-lasting resilience in teens

Sun striking the Clocktower

Monday 25 July 2016 12:37pm

Damian Scarff image
Dr Damian Scarf

New University of Otago research shows that teenagers who go on a Spirit of New Zealand sea voyage display significant long-term increases in psychological resilience driven by their feeling of being accepted by members of their group.

The study, which is 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 10-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 difference 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 10-person group they form during the voyage, whose members work closely together to undertake challenging tasks in sailing a tall-masted ship.

Study co-author Dr Damian Scarf of the University’s Department of Psychology says the finding could help explain why previous research into the psychological effects 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 their 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.

For more information, contact:

Dr Damian Scarf
Department of Psychology
University of Otago
Tel 03 479 7636

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