Sensory displeasure reduces complex cognitive performance in the heat

The aim of this study was to verify that in a hot environment, the subjective state could affect cognitive performance before any increase in core temperature. Eighteen volunteers performed a planning (OTS) and a reaction time task in hot and control environments. Before starting the cognitive assessment, subjects completed the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) and provided subjective measures of thermal comfort and thermal sensation. Our results showed that while simple tasks were not affected, complex cognitive task performance was significantly reduced in the HOT. Furthermore, although subjects responded faster during the complex task (OTS) they took longer to find the correct solution. Within the 15 min of heat exposure, skin temperature (Tskin) significantly increased by ∼3 °C. However, core temperature remained unchanged and there were cortical excitability alterations that could have influenced cognitive performance. Therefore, the increase in Tskin appears to be a sufficient physiological response to alter the subjective state of individuals and impair effective decision-making that could have important consequences in occupational settings.


Source : Gaoua N, Grantham J, Racinais S, El Massioui F. J. Environ. Psychol. 2012; 32(2): 158-163. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2012.01.002
Attention; Planning task; Brief exposure; Heat; Affects

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