Everyone is well aware of how humid temperatures can tax the human body. Aside from taking a physical toll, recent research indicates that heat waves can also have an adverse impact on the mind.
Wilting in the Heat
Such was the finding of a Harvard University study, which was published in the July 10, 2018 edition of the journal PLOS Medicine. For this project, the Harvard researchers monitored the cognitive performance of 44 college students over the summer months of 2016. Each of these participants resided in college dorms, though not all of these living spaces were air-conditioned.
During a period of twelve consecutive days, the students were required to undergo two separate tests as part of their morning routines. One test allowed the study authors to gauge the subjects’ cognition and focusing capabilities, while the other measured information processing/memorization speeds.
The twelve day study period included a five-day heat wave. When reviewing their accumulated testing data, the research team found a sizable gap between subjects with air-conditioning and those without it. During the heatwave, those in the former category outscored their overheated counterparts when it came to both reaction time and memory, among other measures of cognitive function. Specifically, the students forced to live without air-conditioning had 13.4% longer reaction times on color-word tests. This same group scored an average of 13.3% lower on tests consisting of addition and subtraction questions.
A Problem for Everyone
The study’s lead author, Jose Guillermo Cedeño-Laurent, contends that the report illustrates the risk that high temperatures pose to the general public. “Most of the research on the health effects of heat has been done on vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, creating the perception that the general population is not at risk from heat waves,” stated Cedeño-Laurent in a university press release. “Knowing what the risks are across different populations is critical considering that in many cities, such as Boston, the number of heat waves is projected to increase due to climate change.”