Do Other People Seem Really Stupid Right Now? Harvard Scientists Have an Amazing Explanation

There could be a simple reason, according to Harvard scientists: It"s so hot right now in America that people are simply becoming stupid.

It"s not just a joke. Temperatures have soared over the last 10 days in most of the U.S. and in the U.K. And the scientists at Harvard"s T.H. Chan School of Public Health apparently have perfect timing.

They released a scientific study that suggests that all other things being equal, smart people became dumber when the temperature soars. About 13 percent dumber, if we want to quickly put a number on it.

Wake up in the morning, and take a test in the heat

The Harvard study was conducted two years ago, although it"s just being published online this week, in the journal PLOS Medicine.

Researchers tracked 44 college students in the Boston area during a 2016 heatwave (along with the period just before and just after the heatwave). The students were all roughly the same age, attended the same college, and lived near each other.

The only identifiable difference was that about two dozen of the students lived in an air conditioned dormitory that had been built in the 1990s. The remainder lived in a series of buildings that were about 50 years older and did not have air conditioning.

Each morning, just after they woke up, all the students were required to take two cognition tests on their smartphones. 

One test was designed "to evaluate cognitive speed and inhibitory control," which is basically the ability to focus, according to a Harvard press release. The other test "consisted of basic arithmetic questions and was used to assess cognitive speed and working memory."

During the heatwave, students who lived in buildings without air conditioning did 13.4% more poorly on the first test, and 13.3% more poorly on the second test, compared to the lucky kids living in the air conditioned buildings.

It"s not the heat. It"s the stupidity.

Apparently the stupidness sticks. Because the biggest difference in cognitive function between the students living with and without air conditioning, was observed in the days right after the heatwave, "when outdoor temperatures began to subside but indoor temperatures remained elevated in the dormitories without air conditioning."

The researchers say all of this research is important because climate change is going to precipitate more and more heatwaves around the world, in years to come.

"Most of the research on the health effects of heat has been done in vulnerable populations, such as the elderly," said Jose Guillermo Cedeño-Laurent, research fellow at Harvard Chan School and lead author of the study." 

The problem with that is focus, he said, it that it suggests the problem might not be that big a deal for the general population. Not so, they surmise--and this study suggets.

Of course you probably don"t need Harvard scientists to tell you that. All you need is to spend a little time in an open office, watching Mike from Marketing smirk with accomplishment, as he updates his network login to "p@$$word." 



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