Although compressed-air diving has been possible for most of the 20th century, it only became popular following the development of scuba equipment during the late 1940s.
At that time, only those who sought excitement and had a genuine love of the sea would embrace the sport of diving. It is the interesting factor of diving accidents history. Natural selection dictated that these would be aquatic people - with skills and personality factors suited to this and other water activities - the 'waterman' concept. Diving was merely an extension of this overall interest and ability.
In the 1960s these 'natural' divers exploited their talents commercially and became instructors. They required of their trainees a level of water skills often in excess of that possessed by most and few trainees took up this challenge. Those who did were required to show personality characteristics that could tolerate extremes of physical discomfort, environmental hazards and inadequate equipment.
During the 1970s, with the availability of more user-friendly equipment, and the change in attitude away from the hunter/killer male chauvinistic approach, there was a movement towards the ecologically perceptive diver, equipped with a camera more often than a catch bag.
Thus, the tough male stereotype of the pre-1960s was supplanted by the sensitive and sociable diver of the post-1980s. The belief that diving should be available to all even resulted in a number of handicapped groups entering the scuba diving world. These included paraplegics, blind and deaf divers, as well as the introduction of 'friends of divers', i.e. children, members of the diver's family, other peer groups, etc. We must remember that personality factors are the most important reason of all diving accidents.
Some of the people now undertaking scuba diving are probably more accident prone - or at least less able to cope with demanding situations than those of the earlier years. As a result, new types of disorders are arising apart from the traditional diseases, and the stress syndromes of diving are typical of these (best diving). Diving trainees of the new millennium represent the general population, with a wide range of physical, medical and psychological limitations.
The ocean environment can be unforgiving, and may not make allowance for the personality of the new divers. Also, the user friendly equipment may expedite diving but promote new difficulties and dependency.
The early divers were somewhat like the early aviators in that they were adventure seekers, and often carried out their activities because of necessity. They included such groups as explorers, treasure hunters (salvage) and military divers. In contrast, and with the increasing sophistication of equipment and the greater complexities of deep diving, the commercial divers of this decade are far more careful, obsessional and conscientious than their forebears.
The personality factors characteristics required for a recreational diver, who can choose the dive conditions and vary the duration, are quite different to those of the professional diver who may have to remain isolated in the underwater environment and be able to use underwater habitats for days or weeks at a time. In this text we will summarize some of the observations that have been made on divers.
A need for excitement, or environmental stimulus, is probably required for scuba diving. In 1955, Yarborough stated that the diver not only had to have an absence of physical defects, but should also possess a stable psyche and a phlegmatic personality. The possession of a temperament free of alarmist characteristic was essential. This requirement was later verified by the progressively increasing numbers of divers who died as a result of panic.
In 1957, Dr. Harry Alvis stated that divers were not the most normal of normal people, and that a special type of personality was required. Sir Stanley Miles, in 1962, stated in the first sentence of his textbook on Underwater Medicine and Diving Accidents that 'It is most important, right at the outset, to realize that the problems of man's adaptation to a watery environment are primarily those of temperament'.
Bowen and Miller, in 1967, stressed the hazardous nature of diving activities. Danger ('and drowning') was always one breath away, and while cooperation was imperative for safety, the diver was necessarily a lonely person, dependent more on his own quick actions for his safety. Later, in 1969, Caille stated that of all divers, the greater physical and mental demands (personality factors) were made upon the military and naval personnel who fulfilled a combat role. There is only a small margin underwater for deviations from normal health, and no one could predict when - and in what circumstances - a candidate would be exposed to excessive stress (danger).
Many psychometric studies have been performed on divers, but as each group has different operational requirements, the results do not have widespread relevance. In general, full psychometric assessments probably do not have a predictive value that is commensurate with the time and cost of the investigations (see more about personality factors and diving accidents).
In most of the diving training during the 1950s and 1960s, there was a consistent 50 per cent failure rate in professional diving courses. This selection meant that some sort of standards were being applied. In comparison, today there is little or no failure rate in many of the recreational diving courses now being held - suggesting that few or no standards are being applied, other than the ability to pay.
Ross, in 1950, conducted an investigation into Australian Navy divers and found that the major characteristic required appeared to be sufficient self- control to face threatening situations, without disabling anxiety. He also noted the importance of an 'adventuresome approach, diligence in performing work, self-reliance, tolerance of discomfort and an indifference to minor injuries and illnesses'. Physical attributes such as stamina, athletic fitness and an affinity for strenuous effort were very important.
In the training of the underwater demolition teams (UDT) from the US Navy, psychometric testing revealed that mechanical and arithmetical comprehension was more highly correlated with success than other characteristics, such as clerical ability. Psychological tests on some groups of divers, such as UDTs, also showed quite different traits to the tests performed on other diving groups . Nevertheless, there were some personality factors characteristics that continued to be present among most divers, and these included objectivity, low neuroticism (trait anxiety), aggression and self-sufficiency. Fear and anxiety were not acceptable personality factors.
Learning about the role of personality factors to diving accidents you must remember that in 1967, Edmonds carried out a prospective assessment of 500 diving candidates, who were undergoing a diving course that had a recognized 41 per cent pass rate. A statistical analysis of the results showed that the diver was a psychologically stable, medically and physically fit individual who was not overtly worried by diving hazards, and had both the desire and ability to perform in the water environment. In comparison to the unsuccessful candidates, the diver was usually more mature, motivated by love of water sports (but not by adventure or comradeship), was not fearful of the hazards likely to be encountered, physically fit, thick-set (low Cotton's Index of Build), a non-smoker and free of medical disorders, very capable of breath-holding and swimming, intelligent, self-sufficient, non-neurotic, simple and practical. Exceptional physical fitness - and especially aquatic fitness - were important personality factors for successful best diving. A failure to complete a 200-metre swim in less than 5 minutes, without swimming aids, was an indicator of poor aquatic fitness. After three years of detailed investigation, Edmonds had merely confirmed the anecdotal views of Yarborough and Ross, expressed many years previously.
Comparisons of divers with non-divers in the US Navy revealed that divers had less hospitalization rates for stress-related disorders, but higher rates for environmentally induced disorders. The interpretation that they did more but thought less is possibly an oversimplification.
Different personality characteristics are required for different types of professional diving. In saturation diving, the divers must work together within a small enclosed area where an affinity and ability for teamwork and tolerance are needed. An abalone diver, who works in isolation for many hours each day, does not require such social skills (and often does not possess them). A Navy diver who detonates or defuses underwater explosives needs good mechanical aptitudes, while technical divers need increased conscientiousness and obsessionality because of the narrower margin for error.
Divers performed quite differently on psychometric testing than their non-diving controls. Professional abalone divers, even in the 1980s, tended to be risk-taking types, and this was demonstrated in their attitude to - and results in - psychometric tests.
Similarly, the range of skills required for recreational divers varies with the type of diving. Nevertheless, self-reliance and a freedom from neuroticism (low trait anxiety) seems common among all diving groups.
Within any occupational group, because the requirements are the same, males and females will probably have similar personality factors profiles.
Morgan and his colleagues verified that anxiety (trait anxiety, neuroticism) was likely to predispose to panic responses. Introverted people are more concerned with the exercise demands of diving, becoming more susceptible to exhaustion and fatigue, than extroverts. He demonstrated that panic was a frequent problem, even among experienced divers, and was observed in 54 per cent of recreational divers (64 per cent in females, 50 per cent in males). Males tended to report this later - when the event became life-threatening - than females.