Heat Waves Can Make People Dumber According to New Study
By RJ Johnson - @rickerthewriter
July 12, 2018
People are used to heat waves being part of the summertime experience, but, with record-high temps and massive heat waves sweeping the nation, it may not surprise you to learn that a new study says people can actually get dumber during a heat wave.
In a new report published in PLOS Medicine, researchers at Harvard University say they discovered that people's brains worked 13 percent slower when they have to work in extreme heat. The study looked at 44 college students living in Boston during a 2016 heat wave that was reportedly one of the hottest in the city's history.
Twenty-two of the students lived in a brick-based building that didn't have air conditioning, with the other 22 living in an air-conditioned dorm during the 12-day experiment. When subjects were given a series of math and memory tests, researchers found that the students who lived in non-air-conditioned buildings performed significantly worse on them than their air-conditioned brethren.
“Most of the research on the health effects of heat has been done in vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, creating the perception that the general population is not at risk from heat waves,” lead author Jose Guillermo Cedeño-Laurent said in a press release.
“Knowing what the risks are across different populations is critical considering that in many cities… the number of heat waves is projected to increase due to climate change.”
The research team says the non-air-conditioned brick buildings the students lived in made the effects of the heat wave on their brains even worse because they have a hard time shedding heat during the night time.
"Indoor temperatures often continue to rise even after outdoor temperatures subside, giving the false impression that the hazard has passed, when in fact the 'indoor heat wave' continues," said Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science and co-director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (C-CHANGE) at Harvard Chan School and one of the study's senior authors.
"In regions of the world with predominantly cold climates, buildings were designed to retain heat. These buildings have a hard time shedding heat during hotter summer days created by the changing climate, giving rise to indoor heat waves."
Photo: Getty Images