How does heat affect cognitive skills?
Temperatures rise in summer. How do higher temperatures affect brain performance? Researchers have now found that extreme heat can have a negative impact on cognitive skills. These even continue when the temperatures have already dropped again.
The scientists from the internationally recognized Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found in their current study that extreme heat has a negative impact on cognitive skills. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "PLOS Medicine".
High temperatures affect perception
The study focused on the effects of intense heat spells on participating students. Of course, it was already known that extreme weather conditions (e.g. heat waves) can have a negative impact on physical health, the experts say. This applies in particular to the health of older people. However, the current study is one of the first to suggest that high temperatures can affect perception regardless of age, the researchers explain.
Study included 44 subjects
As part of the study, 44 students were divided into two groups. One group was housed in an air-conditioned building, while the other group was housed in a building that did not have air conditioning. The study lasted 12 days and was carried out at the height of summer 2016. The first five days of the study were seasonally warm, followed by a five-day heat wave. The remaining two days of the study marked a significant cooling period.
How was the investigation carried out?
In the current examination, all subjects had to do a short test on their smartphone every morning after waking up. The students without air conditioning performed worse. In addition, five different levels of perception deteriorated. If the subjects had to answer basic arithmetic questions, the participants without air conditioning achieved 13.3 percent lower values compared to subjects with air conditioning. In addition, it took 13.4 percent longer to respond to a test that asked participants to identify the color of certain words in the text.
The influence of the heat waves remains after the temperature drops
As the temperatures cooled in the remaining two days of the study, the effects continued. According to the study authors, this suggests that the influence of a heat wave can persist at least some time after a temperature drop, which is partly due to the type of building. Buildings were often designed to store heat, the experts explain. Of course, such a design has unpleasant consequences, considering that American adults spend 90 percent of their time indoors, the authors add to the study. There are many indications that people suffer from impaired perception in the warmer months without recognizing their situation or the causes. As climate change causes temperatures to rise further, the problem could soon become more serious.
The population must be informed
The researchers involved in the study hope that more people will become concerned about climate change if they are made aware of the personal effects of extreme heat and global warming. If people are made aware of the effects of climate change on an individual level, this could lead people to become more active in combating climate change, the scientists emphasize. (as)