New study connects worker cognition to indoor air quality

A recent study published in the monthly journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, revealed that cognitive scores were 61% higher when participants were exposed to conditions similar to those in green buildings, and were 101% higher on days in so-called “Green+ days.” Participants in the study included architects, designers, programmers, engineers, creative marketers, and managers. The study excluded people who smoked and those with asthma, claustrophobia, and schizophrenia.

Twenty-four participants spent six full work days exposed on different days to indoor environmental quality conditions with high and low concentrations of volatile organic compounds that are similar to those found in office buildings in the U.S. Additional conditions simulated a green building with a high outdoor air ventilation rate, as well as “Green+” days, which provided the highest level of air ventilation. Artificially elevated carbon dioxide levels independent of ventilation were also introduced.

Cognitive assessment was performed daily using the Strategic Management Simulation software tool, which is a computer-based test designed to test the effectiveness of management-level employees through assessments of higher-order decision-making. The greatest effects of conditions on cognition occurred with the ability to respond to crisis, use information, and strategize.

The study also found statistically significant declines in cognitive function scores when CO2 concentrations were increased to levels that would satisfy ASHRAE’s ventilation rate guideline for acceptable indoor quality (approximately 950 ppm).

These findings have wide-ranging implications because this study was designed to reflect conditions that are commonly encountered in many indoor environments.

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