Air pollution clouds brain performance and workforce productivity – Queensland study.

Even short-term exposure to air pollution impacts our brain performance and capacity to work, according to researchers from The University of Queensland and Carnegie Mellon University.

Dr Andrea La Nauze from UQ’s School of Economics said a data study indicated that air pollution damaged cognitive function in working-age adults.

“Our research used data from Lumosity brain training games to investigate the impact of air pollution on adults living in the United States,” Dr La Nauze said.

“The games we studied targeted seven cognitive functions: memory, verbal ability, attention, flexibility, maths ability, speed and problem-solving.

“We found that exposure to moderately high levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) caused a player to drop by almost six points in a 100-point scale where 100 represents the score of the top one per cent of cognitive performers.

“In fact, if you’re under 30 years old and you’re exposed to this level of pollution, your cognitive function declines by the same amount as ageing by 15 years.”

PM2.5 are tiny particles 2.5 microns or less in size.

If inhaled, PM2.5 can penetrate the lungs, enter the bloodstream and cause serious health problems, including heart disease and respiratory issues.  

Dr La Nauze said while the health effects of PM2.5 were widely understood, this research was the first to use brain training data to study the potential impact on cognitive performance.

“Cognitive functions are skills that we use to process, store and use information – they’re critical to tasks ranging from making a cup of tea to self-regulating,” she said.

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