Is it really possible for the environment to alter our brainpower? Quite possibly! Have you ever been too hot to work, or maybe even too cold? These are just a couple of examples of environmental problems leading to an impact on our daily lives and our productivity. But, science now says that there is a direct link between those environmental problems and our intelligence.

Here are three ways to link our surroundings to our brainpower, according to recent studies:

1. Environmental problems begin at home

According to a study on the effect of environmental factors on the intelligence of children, there is a direct link between environmental factors and the impact on the IQ of children. Factors include place of residence, physical activity, family income, parental education and occupation of the father.

Results showed that children are more likely to have a high IQ if they:

  • live in cities
  • have physical activity of more than 5 hours per week
  • have parents with a postgraduate or graduate level of education
  • had a father with a professional job
  • had a higher family income

Another major influence on intelligence, according to the study, is the level of cognitive stimulation the child receives at home. In addition, the ratio of encouraging comments made to children, versus reprimands, seems to have an influence on IQ.

Here, the quality of mother to child interactions is most relevant in determining the development of intelligence in early childhood. The study also states:

“Deficiency of micronutrients and presence of environmental toxins are associated with the impaired neuropsychological development and classroom performance.”

The conclusion to be drawn is that early development is key. For children who have any environmental problems early on, such as lack of nutrients or exposure to toxins (as a result of their early surroundings), will go on to develop a lower IQ.

2. All I need is the air that I breathe…

Speaking of exposure to toxins, it is not just children who can suffer lower brain power. According to new research in China, as a result of increased levels of pollution, there were drops in test scores in language and maths. In fact, it had such an adverse effect that the average impact could be compared to having lost a year of school/college.

The Chinese research, carried out by the Yale School of Public Health in the US, is relevant around the globe. Particularly, considering about 95% of the world’s population is breathing unsafe air – and when there is a direct link to a demise in someone’s intelligence and overall brainpower, that is extremely worrying.

Previously, studies demonstrated that the negative effects of air pollution resulted in poorer cognitive performance in students. However, the current research was the first to study people of all ages as well as the differences between the sexes. The results showed that those over 64 years old suffered the most detrimental effects on their cognitive functions.

What does air pollution actually do us? In fact, it causes seven million premature deaths every year! Recent research linked toxic air to “extremely high mortality” in mental health patients while previous studies associated it with higher rates of mental illness in children. Finally, another report showed that people who lived near busy highways had a higher risk of dementia.

3. An impact on overall performance

What can we really do about it? We cannot avoid the air we breathe and it could take centuries to purify the air by changing the way we use planes trains and automobiles.

Perhaps the answer lies in artificial air – and there could be more benefits to this than you think!

According to a study into how heat affects our brain power, the research team tested and compared two groups of participants — 24 students who lived in buildings with air conditioning and 20 students who lived in buildings without the facility.

Each day, the students were asked to take two tests on their smartphone. The first one measured cognitive speed and inhibitory control by asking them to identify the colour of displayed words. The second one assessed cognitive speed and working memory by presenting basic maths.

Students who did not live in air-conditioned dorms performed worse on the tests compared to those who did. On average, the former group was 13% slower in their reaction time on both tests.

However, the caveat is that the air conditioning needs to consider the environment. Recent research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison also suggested fossil fuel-powered air conditioning may contribute to roughly 1,000 additional annual deaths by 2050.

However, there is further development to improve air conditioning to greener methods – if successful, it could provide the key to healthier, longer and more intelligent living.

Maybe we should not go out, shut all the doors and crank up the air conditioning. Maybe then we will see a whole different set of environmental problems or none at all!

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