The research on the effects of carbon dioxide (CO2) on the human brain has recently been widely reported. The effects of CO2 on human cognition and decision-making not only affect the workers in high-polluting industries but also the other category of individuals. There is evidence that indoor CO2 has a negative effect on test scores and learning abilities in schools and universities. It adversely impacts employee productivity at low exposure levels. Many researchers point out that the effects of carbon dioxide on cognitive function & decision-making are proportional to the CO2 concentration in the air.
While the research on the effects of indoor CO2 on human cognition is still preliminary, it shows that in the long term, human behavior will begin to decline in CO2-rich environments. This includes a decrease in our ability to plan multi-stage strategies, react to changes, and use new information effectively. This is a frightening situation.
Studies have shown that indoor levels of CO2 are much higher than those outside. We spend nearly 90% of our time in indoor environments, be it our homes, offices, schools, malls, hospitals, etc. CO2 levels outside the range between 350-400ppm and in indoor spaces. It can go up to 1500-2000ppm or even above, depending on the number of people present and the amount of ventilation on the premises.
Elevated levels of CO2 in modern buildings
Most of our modern buildings are designed to reduce energy use and provide air conditioning to make us feel comfortable temperature-wise. However, this overlooks our health and we breathe in poor indoor air. Energy usage in buildings is mainly attributed to the air conditioning systems. Buildings usually shut down ventilation through outside air & recirculate the same cooled air as ventilation through outside air brings in either higher or lower temperature air. To cool/heat the same air to bring it to human comfort temperature, more energy is used than just simply recirculating the same air. We work in modern offices, shop in fancy malls, and send our children to air-conditioned schools/colleges. But we never realize how poor the indoor air quality of these places is as, without ventilation, we are breathing in the increasing level of CO2 as our time inside progresses.
The feeling of tiredness, drowsiness, or even inability to focus after working for a few hours in a poorly ventilated space are signs of CO2 impacting our brain function and productivity in the short term. The long-term effects can be really harmful.
Impacts of high CO2 levels on brain function
The researchers at the University of Berkeley conducted a decision-making test that simulated the management of an organization in a time of crisis. The participants took part in three parts, lasting 2.5 hours each, and under identical conditions. However, the CO2 concentrations were varied. For example, people who had high CO2 concentrations were unable to strategize effectively. Thus, if CO2 increases the levels of cognitive ability in people, then this may have a beneficial effect on decision-making in companies. The effects of carbon dioxide are significant. High CO2 concentrations reduce IQ by 25 percent. And a 400-ppm increase in CO2 concentrations can lead to a 50% decrease in complex strategic thinking. This study shows that it is crucial to start addressing the effects of CO2 on human thinking.
Using a lab-controlled office environment, researchers studied 24 participants’ responses to a complex scenario. The participants’ cognitive capabilities were tracked using the software. The participants had difficulty defining strategy, using information, and responding to a crisis. High levels of carbon dioxide reduce the capacity of humans to think complexly, which affects their ability to respond to situations.
Its impact on the health of children
Researchers at the University of Colorado say the rise in CO2 can affect the ability of people to think critically. Researchers have noticed a decline in concentration, vigilance, and memory in children exposed to high CO2 levels in schools. They noted that increased levels of CO2 decreased their students’ ability to think strategically and solve problems. This could have disastrous consequences for human survival.
A very famous study by professor Joseph Allen of Harvard School of Public Health measured a 15% low cognitive ability score at 950 ppm and a further 50% decline at 1400 ppm. Through these findings, we can quantify the negative impact that high levels of CO2 can have on our level of concentration.
The solution to high CO2 in indoor air
While we spend 90% of our lives indoors, CO2 levels can quickly rise. Because of this, indoor environments become increasingly devoid of fresh air, causing a carbon dioxide build-up. And consequently, impacting our mind and body in the short as well as long term.
Therefore, correctly measuring the CO2 in our living and working places is highly crucial by using the right monitors. Once we know the problem, we can implement the solution. Ventilation plays a key role in reducing CO2 in indoor air. However, ventilation does bring in a variety of other outdoor pollutants that are harmful too. Striking the right balance here is important. Thus fresh air with meticulous filtration will ensure a healthy and livable indoor environment and overall well-being oneself.