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Heat reduces students' cognitive abilities in non-air-conditioned dorms

Xinhua | Updated: 2018-07-11 03:05

WASHINGTON - A Harvard study showed that students living in dormitories without air conditioning (AC) during a heat wave performed worse on cognitive tests than those who lived in air-conditioned dorms.

The study published on Tuesday in the journal PLOS Medicine demonstrated for the first time the potential detrimental cognitive effects of indoor temperatures during a heat wave in a group of young healthy individuals.

The researchers tracked 44 students in their late teens and early 20s living in dorm rooms. Twenty-four of the students lived in adjacent six-story buildings that had central AC. The remaining 20 students lived in low-rise buildings that did not have AC.

The researchers measured temperature, carbon dioxide levels, humidity, and noise levels, and tracked their physical activity and sleep patterns with wearable devices in over 12 consecutive days in the summer of 2016.

The first test required students to identify the color of displayed words to evaluate cognitive speed and inhibitory control. The second test consisted of basic arithmetic questions to assess cognitive speed and working memory.

The findings showed that during the heat wave, students in the buildings without AC experienced 13.4 percent longer reaction times on color-word tests, and 13.3 percent lower addition/subtraction test scores compared with students with air-conditioned rooms.

Also, according to the study, the most significant difference in cognitive function between the two groups was seen during the cooldown period, when outdoor temperatures began to subside but indoor temperatures remained elevated in the dormitories without air conditioning.

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