ResearchMIT research proves negative impact of poor IAQ on cognitive function

Poor air quality inhibited the decision-making abilities of chess players, and could be impacting employee focus in your office
Content Team2 months ago4 min

According to recent MIT research, when there is more fine particulate matter in the air, chess players perform objectively worse and make more suboptimal moves as determined by a computer analysis of their games.

In more detail, the likelihood that chess players will make a mistake rises by 2.1 percent with a small increase in fine particulate matter, and the severity of those mistakes rises by 10.8 percent. At least in this situation, cleaner air contributes to mental clarity and mental acuity. Not to mention, further research shows that there’s a high ROI for investing in healthier buildings.

“We find that when individuals are exposed to higher levels of air pollution, they make more more mistakes, and they make larger mistakes,” says Juan Palacios, an economist in MIT’s Sustainable Urbanization Lab, and co-author of a newly published paper detailing the study’s findings.

Indoor air quality and chess prowess

This study adds to the existing frameworks surrounding the effects of air pollution on cognition, with an additional asset of being in a highly controlled setting. To gather data, the researchers studied the performance of 121 chess players in three seven-round tournaments in Germany in 2017, 2018, and 2019, comprising more than 30,000 chess moves.

The researchers measured carbon dioxide, PM2.5 concentrations, and temperature within the tournament venue using three web-connected sensors, all of which can be impacted by outdoor circumstances even in an enclosed space. Each tournament lasted eight weeks, making it possible to investigate the relationship between variations in air quality and variations in player performance.

The researchers utilised software that analyses each move performed in a chess game, identifies the best moves, and highlights critical mistakes to measure player performance.

“It’s pure random exposure to air pollution that is driving these people’s performance,” Palacios says. “Against comparable opponents in the same tournament round, being exposed to different levels of air quality makes a difference for move quality and decision quality.”

Disadvantages in the office space

Indoor Air Quality and Strategic Decision Making’ demonstrates the clear impact of indoor air quality on cognitive ability in a chess game. The same disadvantages are transferable to brain function in other settings, like the workplace. More than ever, employees are demanding better IAQ standards – and this study shows that they have good reason to be doing so.

Content Team

Work in Mind is a content platform designed to give a voice to thinkers, businesses, journalists and regulatory bodies in the field of healthy buildings.

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