Research: Poor indoor air reduces cognitive performance

Research has found that working in a room with poor indoor air significantly decreases cognitive productivity. These results call for more attention be paid to proper ventilation, especially in spaces where cognitive performance is key such as schools and offices.

Most people are aware that the indoor air we breathe impacts our health. However, it is less widely known that the quality of indoor air also affects cognitive performance. Harvard researcher Joseph G. Allen and his colleagues (2016) investigated the role of indoor air CO2 concentration on cognitive performance. They conducted an experiment where people were asked to work in a room where the CO2 concentration of the indoor air was manipulated into three different levels; 1) low CO2 concentration (600 ppm); 2) common CO2 concentration (950 ppm), and, 3) high CO2 concentration (1400 ppm). The study results showed that air with lower concentrations of Co2 improved people’s cognitive abilities, including optimal decision-making. Allen and his colleagues’ results are especially interesting because the higher-level CO2 concentrations used are the same as those usually found in offices and schools.

How to improve ventilation

These results add to the body of knowledge highlighting the importance of good ventilation. When intending to improve the ventilation of a building, two major factors need to be considered. First, a solution is needed to effectively remove bad air, such as CO2 and excess humidity, from the building. This can be done with a VILPE roof fan or exhaust pipes. Second, sufficient amounts of fresh air must be brought into the building. This can be achieved with VILPE ventilation vents or intake vents, although when planning your ventilation, we recommend contacting a professional when planning your ventilation systems, as there may be several additional considerations.

Reference:  Allen JG, MacNaughton P, Satish U, Santanam S, Vallarino J, Spengler JD. 2016. Associations of cognitive function scores with carbon dioxide, ventilation, and volatile organic compound exposures in office workers: a controlled exposure study of green and conventional office environments. Environ Health Perspect 124:805–812; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1510037