New study: Air quality affects chess players’ ability

The Times reports on a new study on the impact of pollution on cognitive performance:

Chess players make worse decisions when they breathe dirtier air, suggesting that even low pollution levels can blunt cognitive performance.

Researchers found that the number of errors made by players competing in tournaments in Germany climbed significantly when they were exposed to higher levels of a type of fine particulate pollution known as PM2.5….

The effect was especially pronounced when the players were under time pressure and the researchers believe that the study gives an insight into the impact of common airborne pollutants, including vehicle exhaust fumes, on high-stakes decision making.

Of course, in a study like this correlation isn’t causation, but it’s still pretty suggestive. This is also notable because chess players now are more likely to be exercise fanatics than chain smokers, so as a population (as I understand it) they’re in fairly good health, and one would think better able to resist the effects of pollution.

And as the Times notes, this isn’t the first time a research study has identified a link between pollution and cognitive performance:

Previous studies have shown that agricultural and factory workers are less productive on more polluted days.

The effects appear to extend further than physical fatigue. In one study, researchers found that professional baseball umpires made more incorrect calls when the air was more polluted. The Times revealed this week that higher levels of particulate pollution inside exam halls is associated with university students achieving lower marks.

The biological causes are unclear but researchers believe exposure to pollution may hinder cognition by causing inflammatory reactions and reducing the transportation of oxygen to the brain.

At several of the companies I’ve visited when researching SHORTER (US | UK), I noticed that they have special air filter systems. Maybe every company that needs people to think on their feet should invest in a decent air purifier!

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