Acute cold exposure and cognitive function: Evidence for sustained impairment

Matthew D. Muller, John Gunstad, Michael L. Alosco, Lindsay A. Miller, John Updegraff, Mary Beth Spitznagel, Ellen L. Glickman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations

Abstract

Several industries experience periods of cold exposure and rewarming throughout the workday but mental performance under these conditions is unknown. A better understanding of cognition during the rewarming phase after cold exposure may help reduce accidents and improve performance. Ten young men (wearing ~ 0.1 clo) underwent three consecutive mornings trials where they were exposed to cold air (10°C) and then subsequently rewarmed (25°C air). A computerised test battery was administered during each stage of the protocol to determine working memory, choice reaction time, executive function and maze navigation. Rectal and skin temperature, oxygen consumption and thermal sensation were also measured throughout and showed a typical response. Relative to baseline performance, working memory, choice reaction time and executive function declined during exposure to 10°C, and these impairments persisted 60 min into the recovery period (i.e. once physiological parameters had returned to baseline). Further work is needed to develop countermeasures to this predicament. Practitioner Summary: This study showed that working memory, choice reaction time and executive function declined during exposure to 10°C air, and these impairments persisted 60 min into the rewarming period (i.e. once measurable physiological parameters had returned to normal). Individuals may be at risk for injury after removal from a cold environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)792-798
Number of pages7
JournalErgonomics
Volume55
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation

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