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Besides making us sluggish, does heat also make our brain slow?
Research has shown that heat waves can reduce our thinking capability and slow us down mentally and in ways we never expected. According to the co-director of the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment at Harvard University, Joe Allen, there is evidence that shows that abnormalities in temperature affect our brain.
In a bid to understand how heat influences young, healthy adults, a study was conducted using college students who lived in the dormitory during the summer heat wave in Boston. Forty-four students were tested with half of them assigned to dorm accommodation with air conditioning while the other half were assigned to halls without air conditioning.
These students were tested twice daily for twelve consecutive days; the first test measuring cognitive speed and memory using basic addition and subtraction while the second test evaluating attention and processing speed.
According to Allen, findings from the study revealed that students who were in a non-air-conditioned environment recorded a 13% reduced performance on tests on basic arithmetic and almost a 10% reduction in the number of correct responses they were able to give per minute compared to their counterparts in an air-conditioned environment.
The result of the study by Allen and his colleagues was published in PLOS Medicine, further adding to the body of evidence that suggests that heat affects mental development in both work and school environment. According to Memo Cedeno from Harvard Chan School of Public Health, Allen’s research showed that even strong and healthy people had their intelligence affected in the heat.
These results aren’t new, either–they confirm what prior studies had discovered. In 2006, a study by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab revealed that a rise in office temperature above the mid-70s caused a decline in the performance of workers. The study discovered that at 72 degrees, the productivity of workers was at its peak while there was a 9% decrease in their productivity when the temperature exceeded the mid-80s.
More recently, a comparison study was done to compare the performance of workers in green-certified buildings against those in typical office buildings. These findings revealed a decline in cognitive function in the indoor environment. A similar study of the performance of students in the class was funded by the Harvard Environmental Economic Program. Its findings revealed that poorer performances on standardized tests were recorded on the days with hot temperature.
This was further backed by R. Jisung Park, an author and assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who revealed that the hot weather can affect the likelihood of graduation as a result of the increased difficulty in passing some specific subjects. He explained this in his book saying that “taking an exam on a 90-degree day leads to a 10.9 percent lower likelihood of passing a subject like Algebra”.
Regardless of all these, there is still room for more learning with regards heat waves and how our body and brains respond to them.