The Astronaut Study


Group Exercise

One of the most impressive exercises that I have ever seen in working with groups, is the Astronaut Study, or the Trip to the Moon. This exercise demonstrates the effectiveness of group decisions in a manner that is hard to believe. The exercise is very simple. Groups of six to eight are formed (although it often works in groups as small as two) and each member is asked to read the simple description of the problem, and then to complete the rating scale for the exercise. After doing so, one group member is selected as leader, and that person moderates the group to discuss and complete one additional rating form, i.e. the group decision.

Following that, the project leader reads off the correct "answers", that were derived when the original seven Mercury astronauts took this same "test". Difference scores for each item rated on each form are then derived. For example if a rating of 4 was given to a particular item by the group member, and the astronauts rated that item as 6, the difference for that item would be 2. Absolute difference is measured, not positive and negative. Finally, a total sum of difference scores is computed by adding the difference scores for all 15 items.

Like in golf, the lower the score the better since lower scores are closer to the judgment of the astronauts. What is typically found, is that the Group score is lower than ANY INDIVIDUAL SCORE within the group! Think about it. That is truly impressive. Where does that improved performance come from? How can the sum be better than any of the individual parts? Are two heads truly better than one?

I use this instrument even in marital work, using the husband and wife as a group of two. Clearly this device was never intended for such "groups", but it USUALLY holds to form even then. I have seen it have a major impact on the perceptions of a couple, such as one I remember where he was an engineer in a scientific project and she was a (pardon me but the analogy is so expressive ) bimbo de jour, scatter brain type. His score was very low, hers was over twice as high as his...... but their group score beat his score by several points. This had quite an impact on how easily he wrote off his wife's opinions in subsequent office visits!

To use this device, I suggest you print the form from this web site and make as many copies as needed. Then, follow this simple procedure:


1. Each member of the group completes the sample problem from the work sheet.

2. A group leader is then selected. This leader leads a discussion to fill out one additional problem sheet, known as the group response. Any amount of discussion or input is allowed during this phase.

3. The "answers" are read allowed to the group by the therapist, and each group member computes the difference score for each item on his/her own form. The group leader computes scores for his/her form and also the Group Response form.

4. When all the scores are computed, and the sums of differences are added to produce the final score, poll the group for any members who had an individual score LOWER than the group score. There will be few, and usually none.

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To print the individual work sheet, click this button

To print a master answer sheet, click this button

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