LEARN / ARTICLE
Feeling Forgetful? Maybe Your Office is Polluted
About the Study
- Journal Title: Short-term exposure to indoor PM2.5 in office buildings and cognitive performance in adults: An intervention study
- Published Date: 1 April 2023
- Author(s): Jiaxu Zhou, Hong Wang, Gesche Huebner, Yu Zeng, Zhichao Pei, Marcella Ucci
- Source: The International Journal of Building Science and its Applications
The research explores how indoor air pollution impacts cognitive functions of office workers in Beijing, China. It assessed five cognitive areas: memory, attention, perception, coordination, and reasoning. Memory was proven to be most impacted by air contamination in the workplace and had a close connection with attention as well.
Office workers showed significantly better cognitive performance in 9 out of 16 skills in areas with clean air.
The researchers conducted an experiment with 60 eligible employees in the study. The inclusion criteria of the participants were: 18-65 years old, not smoking, healthy, not using prescription medications, no mental and learning disorders as well and not having COVID-19 symptoms. Coffee machines were removed temporarily from the office to prevent a variance in caffeine intake.
After providing informed consent, participants were divided into a control group and an intervention group. The control group had a PM2.5 level of 18.0 μg/m³ (moderate) and the intervention group contained a PM2.5 of 3.7 μg/m³ (clean). After 5-7 hours of arrival at the office, the employees were asked to do a cognitive test covering 16 skills in 5 cognitive domains.
The study contributes valuable insights into the relationship between indoor air quality, specifically PM2.5 exposure, and cognitive performance in a workplace context.
Why this Study is Important
Clean Air Quality Has a Positive Effect on Cognitive Performance
Workers in an office setting showed significantly improved cognitive performance in 9 out of 16 skills when exposed to lower indoor PM2.5 concentrations (3.7 μg/m³) through the use of air purifiers, compared to higher PM2.5 levels (18.0 μg/m³) in the polluted condition. This can be applied to other responsibilities needing cognitive tasks, such as students.
Significant Impact on Memory and Attention
Memory abilities positively correlated not only with each other but also with skills within the attention domain. The study suggests a close relationship between memory and attention, with potential implications for overall cognitive function. Therefore, air pollution can also result in unfocused meetings due to a lack of attention and poorly managed tasks.
Broader Relevance and Policy Considerations
The findings contribute to discussions on setting air quality guidelines that take into account potential impacts on cognitive function. The study emphasizes that PM2.5 exposure should be considered more broadly, not solely in terms of disease and mortality, but also regarding cognitive performance and productivity in the workplace.