Original article

Scand J Work Environ Health 1979;5(4):352-361    pdf

doi:10.5271/sjweh.2646

The effects of moderate heat stress on mental performance.

by Wyon DP, Andersen I, Lundqvist GR

Moderate heat stress is believed to affect mental performance by lowering levels of arousal. Conscious effort can counteract this effect. In most experiments, raised temperatures are perceived at the start by subjects and can act as a stimulus to exert conscious effort. In practice, temperatures usually rise slowly and may therefore have a more marked effect. Thirty-six male and 36 female 17-year-old subjects in standard cotton uniforms (0.7 clo) were exposed in groups of four in a climate chamber to rising air-temperature conditions typical of occupied classrooms, in the range 20--29 degrees C. The maximum rate of rise was 4 degrees C/h. Each group performed mental work during three successive periods of 50 min with 10-min breaks between. During each break the air temperature was reduced by 3 degrees C. Sentence comprehension was significantly reduced by intermediate levels of heat stress in the third hour. A multiplication task was performed significantly more slowly in the heat by male subjects, showing a minimum at 28 degrees C. Recognition memory showed a maximum at 26 degrees C, decreasing significantly at temperatures below and above, and an independent measure of degree of certainty in recall showed a maximum at 27 degrees C. These findings are in accordance with the hypothesis of reduced arousal in moderate heat stress in the absence of conscious effort.