This one's more sociological, and it seems like a shoe-in to me, but sociology was never my strength.

Given how pronounced the Coriolis effect of a smaller Von Braun wheel would be, does it seem likely that crews on star ships with such environments would habitually develop some odd quirks that account for it? Pouring liquids causing them to aim off to the side of the receptacle, aiming a little oddly when they urinate, and so on? Things that would make them seem like klutzes during the rare times they ever went planet side and experienced authentic gravity?

It seems obvious to me that they would, but I'd love an opinion from someone who understands psychology and sociology far better than I do.

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    $\begingroup$ It has nothing to do with sociology, sociology is "the study of society, patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture of everyday life." (Wikipedia). Since your question would also apply to an isolated astronaut it is not a sociological question. $\endgroup$ May 8, 2019 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ I actually meant to go back and fix that, but I got distracted by pressing matters. $\endgroup$
    – Cereza
    May 8, 2019 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ Hi, I added a couple tags but didn't touch the psychology one, even though I don't see how it applies. I mean, people who live on boats may walk funny when first back to land. It's just normal compensation. The sociological aspect would be how planet-dwellers treat people who are visiting from spaceship homes. But you're not asking that. $\endgroup$
    – Cyn
    May 8, 2019 at 14:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Dubukay: Or have two toilets on opposite sides of a room and periodically switch which one you use? $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    May 8, 2019 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ Extremely relevant: youtu.be/bJ_seXo-Enc $\endgroup$
    – GetSwifty
    May 8, 2019 at 18:12

4 Answers 4


Depending on spaceship design: possibly, especially if they grow up there.

While ingrained reflexes and responses can be relearnt, they do take time and practice to get adjusted to. You can see this when people try to learn to ride backwards bicycles. People get it, but it takes time to relearn automatic responses.

If someone has experienced having to aim slightly to the left to pee, the first few times they try it planetside they'll probably be cleaning the floor (as well as if they're tired, drunk or not really concentrating).

Thanks to @ALambentEye for a video on how quickly these sorts of quirks can develop: clicky link 1. On the flip-side, this does indicate that any klutziness would be relatively short-lived as well.

Thanks to @Cody as well for this video of astronauts adapting to conditions back in gravity: clicky link 2

I'm not sure about the effect on people who grew up on the ring. I'd anticipate that they'd have a harder time adjusting given that their early developmental stages involve a different set of head-physics. This study involving the development of self-righting in rats reared in microgravity indicates that there might be a developmental window for developing certain kinaesthetic behaviours. However, earth-born people can quite readily adjust to microgravity, and your scenario doesn't involve such a drastic change as life on the ISS. Given that, I'd expect your native wheel-worlders to struggle a little more, but still not experience permanent differences.

Another neat point: I'd expect your wheel-people would jump strangely too.

When you jump on a wheel that's spinning to produce its gravity, you don't land precisely where you jumped from. The reason for this is that while you're in the air above the wheel, your horizontal momentum describes a smaller arc around the centrepoint than the wheel. This means that the wheel beneath you in effect spins further than you do, so when you jump directly upwards you land slightly away from your departure point.

This happens on earth, but because it's circumference is so enormous the effect is minuscule. The smaller a spinning object gets, the more pronounced it gets.

So your wheel-people would probably try to hop up a kerb and stack it the first few times they've worked it out.

I expect I've butchered the description of why that works. There was an excellent explanation I was going to link to but I can't find it! Happy for feedback on that :)

Edit: @MikeNichols has made a very good point that the effects of this will be directional depending on which orientation someone is standing in the spinning wheel. This probably suggests that if consideration is made to this in the design of the spaceship people will get used to consciously working out these sorts of issues so will likely have little issue adapting to environments where you don't need to consciously accommodate for them.

If you want this to happen, you need some select oversights in spaceship design. A one-way system around the ring, and/or toilets only facing one direction would do it.

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    $\begingroup$ There is a very interesting video by Tom Scott demonstrating how quickly such 'quirks' can be developed in the Artificial Gravity Facility of the Ashton Graybiel Spatial Orientation Laboratory at Brandeis University, USA. It came out just over a month ago. $\endgroup$ May 8, 2019 at 12:49
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    $\begingroup$ Anyone who's played pool on poorly maintained bar tables knows you can learn to compensate for a little "house roll" in a rack or two (if you're sober). This is very much the same -- things don't go precisely where they're aimed. However, if you grew up in that environment, you'd have exactly the described issues if you transfer out of it as someone who didn't would have coming in. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    May 8, 2019 at 12:53
  • $\begingroup$ @ZeissIkon Very true, although I'd imagine it would take a little bit of concentration to compensate. Now imagine that the whole planet has a little 'house roll', and everything you do that requires estimating trajectories of something is affected a little. Would definitely take some getting used to :) $\endgroup$ May 8, 2019 at 12:59
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    $\begingroup$ The directional biases on a rotating station aren't absolute. That is to say, for some toilets you will need to aim to the left, but for other toilets, you will need to aim to the right. The Coriolis effects are directional. It's the same for running and jumping and everything else. Depending on your orientation sometimes you will need to overcompensate, sometimes undercompensate, sometimes no compensation required at all. For this reason, I don't think the people aren't likely to develop strange quirks unless for some reason every toilet on the station faces the same direction. $\endgroup$ May 8, 2019 at 14:29
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    $\begingroup$ Another good video demonstrating this effect, astronauts recently returned to Earth often still expect things to float near them, in effect demonstrating this psychological training: youtube.com/watch?v=PVxaL8CAO4M $\endgroup$
    – Cody
    May 8, 2019 at 23:15

One thing that would be immediately noticeable would be the ‘space legs’

Very much like sea legs (where the brain has compensated for the constant rolling motion of the waves and gets confused on solid ground) your space-dwellers will have to deal with the lack of dizziness caused by the Coriolis forces messing with their inner ears. This would typically be characterised by vertigo and a constant feeling of leaning when stood upright. As someone who occasionally suffers from vertigo I can attest to this being thoroughly unpleasant and utterly debilitating if you aren’t prepared for it.

Much like sea legs, however, I suspect that space legs would wear off very quickly once your brain gets used to not being in constant ‘motion’.

ADDENDUM: It turns out there’s already a medical condition related to this: Mal de debarquement is often felt after a person is no longer on a moving vehicle, and while it rarely occurs at the same time as vertigo it shares many of the same symptoms as sea legs and is much more permanent. If your folk are long term space dwellers then it’s possible that they would experience this instead of the short term ‘sea legs’.

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    $\begingroup$ Huh, I'd never heard of MdDS before, but it turns out I experience a very mild form of it... after a long session of surfing I feel like I'm gently bobbing up and down if I lie down on a flat surface, and effect that persists for a few hours but isn't otherwise debilitating or unpleasant. You learn something every day! $\endgroup$ May 8, 2019 at 13:22
  • $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime: Neither did I until just this afternoon, but I’m now wondering if my occasional bouts of ‘mild vertigo’ are, in fact, stress related MdDS. Oh, the perils of reading about medical conditions on the internet! $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    May 8, 2019 at 13:34
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    $\begingroup$ I also get a mild version of MdDS after long car trips. Seems weird to pathologize it, but I suppose it can be pretty debilitating in some people. $\endgroup$
    – Cyn
    May 8, 2019 at 14:36

People living in a Von Braun wheel large enough to require navigation would be able to tell the direction by simply shaking their heads. On Earth, they'd be as lost as someone who grew up with a compass and got suddenly deprived of it.

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    $\begingroup$ Huh. Had’t even considered that. They’d be like pigeons in a strong magnetic field. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    May 8, 2019 at 22:44
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    $\begingroup$ This would fix the thing that one person talked about where if they jumped they would need to be consciously aware of which direction they were facing. If this inner compass worked it could become an automatic habit. $\endgroup$
    – Muuski
    May 9, 2019 at 23:50

Your prediction is correct, according to the scientific field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA):

Described simply as; the scientific study of behavior. ABA explains your prediction. The terms that we need for our explanation are operant conditioning, and generalization. This is a scientific field so not all terminology is easily understandable, but I will try to explain the key terms in everyday language.

You can also skip to the conclusion if you don't want to understand the jargon.

Operant Conditioning:

People (and animals) naturally modify their behavior based on the outcomes of their behavior. The shorter the time between the behavior and the outcome, the faster the behavior will change. Generally, rewarding a behavior will increase it in frequency (AKA the behavior happens more often). Punishing a behavior will instead decrease it in frequency (AKA the behavior happens less often).

An important addendum is that what is 'rewarding' and 'punishing' is not universal across people and animals.

A famous and extreme example:

An autistic adult who is not able to speak smashes his head against a concrete wall at his clinic several times a day. Everyday for months, and clearly on purpose. The staff think he is crazy.

Well no. BCBA's, (basically licensed therapists from this field), in this situation found that the man was motivated by reducing his toothache pain, that no one was aware of. So hew was smashing his head against the concrete wall to relieve the tooth pain. The autistic adult could not speak/write and was not social, so this information could not be communicated. After identifying and extracting said tooth, the head banging stopped because the reward for the behavior was gone.

Here we have an example of a reward increasing how often a behavior happened, and the connection was not obvious.


Basically, learned behaviors can and will be applied to other similar situations. Certain circumstances can increase or decrease this effect, but we won't go into them as they are not necessary for answering this question.


With these two terms we can now easily describe what happens in your space scenario.

  1. Various everyday behaviors are rewarded for being done differently in space. So everyone adopts these behavioral adustments. For example peeing off to the side and into a toilet is rewarding, but peeing everywhere on the floor by aiming badly is punishing because we now have to clean up the mess. So these new behaviors are widely adopted across the crew.

    Some kind of adjustment will be made naturally, even if no one explicitly states this space life dilemma. This is because operant conditioning does not require cognitive understanding of a situation. This is why it works on dogs, rats, fish, and pretty much anything with a nervous system. Action and outcome, is all that is required.

  2. These behavioral modifications generalize to various other situations, including peeing on earth. When the astronauts are back on earth. They apply their new behavior to an old situation and now it doesn't work.

    At least for a few times until they readjust. Although perhaps when they go back to the space station now they will pee their old way again, and make a mess again.


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